Synopsis of the Pilot

Written by Dana Hagerty

"Ally McBeal" begins with a wonderful voice-over by Ally as she stares out a window. She is recounting how she fell in love with a boy named Billy Alan Thomas. (We see all of this through flashbacks.) At first, she thinks it was because she smelled his bottom. "It wasn't that stupid. We saw dogs do it -- that's how they knew for sure." Then she remembers back to their first kiss, and how it made her whole body tingle. "His lower lip barely touching my top lip. That was magic." Their first time wasn't magic. She pinched a nerve in her neck. As the voice-over and flashbacks continue, we learn that Ally followed Billy to law school, even though she didn't want to be a lawyer. Later, Billy decided to transfer to Michigan because he wanted to clerk when he got out, but he didn't think he would make law review at Harvard. "So basically you're putting your law career between us," Ally says. "Well, I choose the law, too. But I choose Boston," she says. We come back to Ally staring out the window. "So here I am, the victim of my own choices. And I'm just starting."

And so "Ally McBeal" begins.

Ally works for a firm that she likes, but one of the senior partners starts to like her a little too much and shows her how much by squeezing her behind. At first she thinks it's her imagination, but one night when she's in the library, Jack Billings comes up and grabs her buttocks with both hands. Ally turns around, tells him to never do that again, and drops a book on his head. She goes to her boss, Billings gets fired, then sues. He claims Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and says that he can't help squeezing butts. He files a claim under the Federal Disabilities Act, and the partners decide that they would rather be sued by Ally. She got an attorney, filed a claim and planned to go public. But Billings didn't care. In fact, he started squeezing all the girl's butts, as strategy. Ally goes back to her boss, who basically admits that they would rather lose her than him, so she quits.

As she exits the building, her box of office stuff in her hands, she runs into an old law school classmate, Richard Fish. Ally and Richard weren't close, in fact, all she remembers about him is the way he talked about being a lawyer so that he could make piles and piles of money. But he has just started his own practice, and he offers her a job, starting today.

As Richard shows Ally around the office, he tells her that his co-founder is John Cage, but he isn't there today because he's out getting his frown lines Botoxed. However, he is apparently so good he "makes rain when he sleeps," Richard says. Richard shows Ally her office and introduces her to Elaine Vassal, her assistant. It's obvious from the beginning that Elaine tries to be a know-it-all and wants to be involved in absolutely everything. She hands Ally a file on a case that Richard wants her to take. "We figured the best way for you to get wet is to jump right in," Richard says. She will be representing Man Made magazine. Elaine says the judge hearing the case isn't big on pantsuits for women. Richard tells Ally her hemline is a little high, but "Who am I to notice?" A man enters Ally's office, and Richard introduces him as Billy Alan Thomas. Ally is shocked that he works there, and when Billy tells Richard that they already know each other, he remembers that they used to date. However, they both tell Richard that it won't be a problem. Ally excuses herself to go to the bathroom.

Looking in the mirror, she tells herself this isn't a big deal. "It's just a funny bounce of the ball, that's all," she thinks, as she imagines a huge boulder coming down and crushing her. Richard walks in and Ally tries to tell him that she's in the bathroom, but he explains to her that it's a unisex bathroom. "Studies show it helps men and women employees breed familiarity, so long as they don't come in to just breed," he says. He asks if working with Billy will be a problem. "Because if it is, well, I can't do anything about it, but I'd be happy to sympathize," he adds. She doesn't answer, but instead mentions her lawsuit against Jack Billings and Richard says the firm will be happy to handle it. When she asks who their best litigator is, Richard says Billy. Ally laughs and asks "Who is your second best?" Richard says if Ally wants to stick it to this guy, then "go with Billy. He's your man."

The next morning, as Ally stands in front of the bathroom mirror getting ready for work, her roommate Renee tells her that getting up so early each morning is going to kill her. Ally says she doesn't have to get up any earlier, but Renee says that with Ally going to work with her ex-boyfriend, her hair and makeup alone will take an extra half an hour. Ally insists that she stopped caring about Billy three years ago. "That's why you're in here changing lip liner, wishing your breasts were bigger," Renee says. When Renee leaves, Ally admits to herself that she does wish her breasts were bigger, and while looking in the mirror, (she is only wearing her skirt and bra), she imagines them growing until her bra straps snap.

At work, Elaine hands Ally the information on her case and proceeds to tell her everything she has done to prepare her. In voice-over, Ally says that she thinks Elaine tells people what's been done because she really wants you to know that she's the one doing it. Ally then imagines Elaine's head inflating.

Richard asks Ally if she remembers her law review article on Fortune 500's Federal and State taxation. She does, and he tells her that they have a meeting coming up that she could probably help with. While Richard tells her about the meeting, Ally starts thinking about how Richard lands clients. He either drools with sympathy or promises whatever to get even with somebody. She imagines him telling someone "I didn't become a lawyer because I like the law. The law sucks. It's boring. But it can also be used as a weapon. You want to bankrupt somebody, cost him everything he's worked for, make his wife leave him, even cause his kids to cry? We can do that." Coming back to reality, Ally hears Richard telling her that it's very important these people come out of that meeting believing they will pay less taxes. Billy comes up to Ally as Richard walks away and asks if she'd like to get some coffee. Ally imagines them having sex in a huge cup of latte. She smiles and says okay.

They go to his office with their coffee and start talking about the Billings case, but it isn't long before Billy tells her that many times he almost picked up the phone to call her. She tells him he doesn't have to think about that now because they will be passing each other in the hallway. Ally says the last she heard, Billy was clerking for Souter. He tells her after that he took a job with Steptoe, but when Richard started his firm it was too tempting to pass up. She asks him if he is seeing anyone, and she is not prepared for his answer. He tells her he's married. She asks if they have kids and he says they don't. He tells her that he's sorry if it hurts for her to hear that he's married, because he knows it would be hard for him if it was the other way around. She thanks him, but tells him that he doesn't have to worry about her. Billy says he's actually glad she's there. "Not as an ex-boyfriend, but as a lawyer who appreciates a talented addition to the firm," he says. In her imagination, arrows plunge into her heart. She tells Billy that she needs to get down to court. "I have to go get wet."

As she walks to the courthouse, she tries to tell herself that she's okay. "Men are like gum anyway. After you chew, they lose their flavor." She tells herself that she hates his new haircut, and she's glad he's married because she doesn't ever have to think about him. A man runs into her as he passes her, and even though he says "Sorry," she turns around, runs back to him and starts yelling. "Don't say you're sorry when you're not sorry. You didn't even look up to see who you bumped into. What if I was an old lady? I could have fallen down and broken a hip. I could be lying on my back in some HMO, my lungs filling up with phlegm till I'm on life support, draining my family of every last cent of their inheritance while I asphyxiate on my own dried half-hacked mucus. No. Don't say you're sorry when you're not sorry." She then hits him in the chest, and asks the guy next to him if he is with him.

Ally finally gets to court. The case is Reverend Kessler vs. Man Made magazine. Henry Thornton is the attorney for the petitioner. In voice-over and flashback, we learn that Ally's father is a lawyer and that she spent a lot of time sitting in courtrooms watching him, listening to him, and studying him. Back in the present, Thornton is asking the judge to issue an injunction prohibiting Man Made magazine from printing a story about his client. He says that the article depicts the Episcopalian minister as a sex-crazed depraved pervert. Ally says that what Thornton is asking for is censorship. Judge Hopkins stops Ally and tells her he will not have her stand before him saluting the flag. He calls the magazine a piece of filth, and Ally asks him if he is able to quantify filth, because the Supreme Court so far hasn't been able to. The judge asks Ally if her client took steps to verify the nun's version of events. The client nods slightly. He then asks if they interviewed the minister and got his account. The client shakes her head no. The judge tells Ally that as a matter of law, the magazine does have every constitutional right to publish the article, but he enjoins them from doing so anyway. He tells Ally to take it to the appeals court. As Ally walks back to the office, she says to herself, "I had the founding fathers on my side. I mean, the constitution, public policy. And the case couldn't be lost. And I've lost it. (pause) And Billy's married." Another guy runs into her and she turns around and pushes him.

Back at the office, Ally is telling Richard that the judge just seemed to have an agenda. Elaine comes up to tell her that she has filed an appeal, and when she goes on and on about everything else she has done Ally again imagines her head swelling. Billy jumps in and tells Richard that he's sure Ally did her best, but Ally won't have any of that. "Don't you stick up for me," she says. Richard interrupts with "Bygones, people. We've got a big meeting with Air National's counsel tomorrow on this rebate case, let's focus on that. Brush up on your tax law." Ally assures Richard that she will be brushed. Later that night, Billy comes to her office and asks her what the hell happened back there. He believes that their breakup has left her with residual, angry feelings. She tells him that actually, the residual feeling was hope. She tells him again that she's fine, she just has a slight problem adjusting to change. At this moment, a woman steps into the room. She's been looking for Billy and asks if he is ready to go. Her name is Georgia, and Billy kisses her, then introduces her to Ally as his wife. He says she works at another law firm and they met in law school where she was his editor. Billy says he'll be ready in two seconds, and Georgia tells Ally it was nice meeting her then leaves. Ally says Georgia seems nice. Billy hands her a memo regarding the tax analysis on Air National. Then he says "You were hoping she was fat and stupid maybe missing a couple of teeth." Ally nods yes. Billy says he should go, but Ally tells him he's got to give her something more than that. He pauses, then says, okay she snores, and her roots aren't quite so blond. Ally says she needs one more thing. He thinks about it, then tells her that Georgia has a bunion on her left little toe. She thanks him, and as he leaves her office, she starts eating the jelly beans she has on her desk.

Renee and Ally go dancing that night. She says that Renee always makes her go when she's depressed. They dance with the dancing twins. Later at home, Renee and Ally are discussing the Billings' case when there is a knock at the door. It's Georgia, and as Ally opens the door we hear the music from "Psycho." After Ally introduces her to Renee, Georgia asks if they can speak in private. They sit on opposite ends of the couch as Georgia tells Ally that she feels stupid being there and Billy doesn't know. She says he told her that he and Ally went on a few dates in high school. Ally, while being surprised that Billy said "a few dates," tells Georgia that yes, they were buds. Georgia says that by reading between the lines, she has gotten the impression that Ally might still have feelings for Billy and that makes her uncomfortable. She admits that she is embarrassed even saying all this, but her policy is to be truthful about things. Ally says she has no such policy. Georgia just looks at her, and Ally tells her it was a joke. She goes on to say that Georgia doesn't have to worry nothing is going to happen. "You do still have feelings?" Georgia asks. Ally tells Georgia that what happened between she and Billy was more than a few dates. "We were exclusive in high school and then again at Harvard," Ally says. Georgia asks if they were in love and Ally responds that they were involved. Georgia then says she supposes that they made love and Ally begins to say yes then just sort of exhales. She tries to reassure Georgia by telling her that she's sure Billy downplayed their past because he knew it would make her uncomfortable. She then tells Georgia that maybe this is something she should be hearing from Billy. Georgia says that while she was in Ally's office today, she picked up a vibe she never felt before. Then she sees an old picture of Billy and Ally on Ally's fireplace mantel. Ally explains that it's just a memento. Georgia tells Ally "I'm sorry, but, I really hate you. I'm ashamed to admit it." But Ally says it's okay, because she really hates her, too. Georgia says "Really? You're not just saying it?" They both begin to giggle.

The next day in Ally's office, Elaine tells her not to worry that the partners aren't casting any negative assumptions about her. "Losing is something that happens to everyone," she says. Billy comes in to get her for their deposition of Jack Billings, and when he asks her if she wants this to be more about discovery or retaliation, she answers bluntly, "Whatever." She grabs a handful of jelly beans from the bowl on her desk and walks out. Elaine tells Billy she is trying to get some information on Ally's cycle.

Billings is representing himself. Billy asks him when he first became aware that he suffered from a compulsive disorder. Billings says it was just after Ally sued him. He says he was so shocked by the implication of what he had done that he sought help and was diagnosed by several doctors. Billy takes the deposition off the record and asks Billings if he is having fun. He says he's having a ball. "So I grabbed her," he says. "She doesn't look emotionally wrought. The job she has now pays her more money." He reminds Billy that you can't sue for being wrong, you have to show damages. "Do they not teach that in law school these days?" Billings asks sarcastically. Billy says he was taught very well, to which Billings replies, "Oh, big Supreme Court clerk. I'll assume you are blinded by the fact that you once slept with your client." They go back on the record, and Ally asks to let the record show "that the deponent is a fat, arrogant, overweight, bald pig."

Billy and Ally go to the unisex, and as he is telling her that what she said wasn't helpful he is looking under all the stalls. Ally says sometimes you have to prove to the other side that you're a fighter, but Billy says that a lawyer stays at his best when he's dispassionate. "Oh, in that case I'm certainly in good hands here," Ally says. She tells him that he has a gift for dispassion, "not to mention downplaying, Mr. A Couple of Dates in High School." She goes on to say that Georgia told her how he characterized their past, and that he should have told her the truth "that you loved me," she says. He admits that is the truth. "So much that sometimes when we were apart, we used to keep an open phone line at night so while I was sleeping I could listen to you breath. Is that what I should have told Georgia?" Billy asks. We hear a toilet flush. Richard exits a stall and tries to slip out as gracefully as possible for Richard. "I can wash my hands later," he says. Billy, furious that Richard overheard, tells him that he checked under all the stalls. Richard says he has an L-5 disk problem and his chiropractor advised him to sit with his feet up. Ally turns to leave and Richard says they were lucky it was him and "not somebody who is at all interested in other people's lives."

On the way to her office, Elaine stops Ally and tells her that she has the National Law Journal on the phone. They are interested in the case she lost and Elaine wants to know if Ally wants to give them a quote. In a tone that indicates she is tired of Elaine doing everything, she asks, "Could I give it to you?" Ally then tells Richard that she isn't able to do the meeting on the airline case. She has a problem in conference room meetings. She shrinks. She says she feels like the clients look at her like a little girl and she feels "puny." Richard says not to worry, that she is only there as estrogen. He says their lead counsel is a woman, but she "bats from the other side" and the guy is "a bit of a wolf." He was hoping she could flirt with both of them. Ally tells Richard "You can't do this to me." "Do what?" Richard asks. "Bring me in here to work next to him. Make me argue cases when the judge is biased against me and then put me in a room to smile at lesbians. It's too much." She hits him in the chest and walks away.

Later that night, Ally and Renee are having drinks at the same bar where they went dancing. Ally says it's probably stupid for her to work at the firm, but she can't leave because it will make her look weak. Renee tells her that Billy is a nice guy, but he's a wimp. She says five years from now, he will be nothing but one of those boring guys looking over his stock portfolio, playing golf, with nothing left to offer her at the end of the day but a sad, limp little piece of fettuccini. She tells Ally that she can do better. "So stop being in love with him. Deal?" Renee asks. Ally says it's a deal, then thinks back to a time when she and Billy are kissing in the rain.

The next day, as Ally walks to court, she tells herself that it's going to be a better day. "Sometimes I wake up and I just know everything's going to be less bad."

Arguing her case before the appeals court, Ally says that Judge Hopkins' ruling not only has no basis in law, it violates it. One of the judges says "Know what my problem is?" Ally answers in her head, "The comb-over?" The judge goes on to say that magazines like this print outrageous stories, then if they need to be corrected, it's done months later on page 42, as a footnote. Another judge says that a libel claim is only about money, it can't restore reputation. "Would Reverend Kessler truly have a legal remedy here?" the judge asks. Ally tells the court that this magazine represents democracy. In her head, she says "They sell sex." She goes on to tell the court that the magazine may contain material that might seem vulgar, but so does Vanity Fair, Esquire, Vogue ("More sex," she tells herself). "If this court is suddenly prepared to be the guardian of content, absent libel, absent obscenity, then you should at least have the integrity and honesty to admit that your ruling abolishes, certainly in part, the notion of free press in America," she says. To herself she says "Sometimes I'm more persuasive when I lack conviction."

When Ally returns to the office, she sees Richard talking to Billings. He takes Billings to his office. Ally comes in, sees them laughing, and asks Richard what is going on. Richard tells her it's private, but Ally demands an answer. Richard says he has just offered to double Billings' salary if he comes to work there. He says the O.C.D. defense that Billings came up with and the fact that he was so brazen about it "sort of represents everything I stand for." He tells Ally that in time he knows she will agree. Ally says if he hires Billings, she will quit. Richard tells her she can't quit two law firms in one week. He asks Billings to promise never to go near Ally's buttocks, even during the holidays. Billings promises. Ally asks Richard if he's on drugs. "You have knowledge of what he does. That makes you and the firm liable if he ever does it again," Ally says. Richard answers, "He says he won't." Ally reminds him that he can't control himself. Richard says he's assuming Billings made the whole thing up, then asks "You did, didn't you?" Billings says "Completely. But you didn't hear that." Richard says "I didn't have to. I've got it right here -- on tape." He pulls out a small tape recorder, then tells Billings that the offer of employment is revoked, the lawsuit will continue, and they will be using "this lovely little admission." Billy comes in, smiles and asks "Did I miss anything?"

Ally is walking back to her office and is on a cell phone, telling Renee that it worked Billings will have to settle, and maybe they can get those new drapes. Renee is in the elevator, on her way to have lunch with Ally. Elaine is trying to get her attention, but Ally walks all the way into her office and turns around before seeing that Georgia is sitting there on her couch. "You have a Georgia Thomas waiting in your office," Elaine finally tells her. Georgia asks Ally about telling Billy that she came to Ally's apartment. Ally tries to make it better by saying that she told him in an upbeat way. Georgia tells her that when she came to her apartment, all she was doing was admitting a difficulty in having Ally work there. Georgia says she's sure it will get easier with time and Ally asks "How much time do you think?" We hear some commotion outside Ally's office, and Renee comes barging in. Elaine is right behind her, trying to stop her. Renee comes right up to Georgia and tells her "I hope you haven't barged in here to be nice again." She tells her she's on to her. "You think that by striking up a friendship with Ally, it will serve as some sort of prophylactic to stop her from ever doing the Hokey Pokey again with Billy?" Richard joins the group. "What's going on? It certainly sounds good." Renee tells Georgia to tell him, but Georgia says Renee seems to have figured it all out so she should tell him. Elaine decides she will tell. "Georgia is upset with Ally for telling Billy that she showed up at her apartment. Ally is upset with Billy for denying their past, and Renee seems to be angry that Georgia is being friendly with Ally as a prophylactic. I haven't had time to suss it all out." Billy enters the office and everyone starts talking. Richard quiets down the group, admits that there is a lot of personal stuff going on, and tells everyone to just take their lunch break.

After lunch, Ally, Billy and Richard are meeting in the conference room with the Air National people. When they look at her, Ally imagines herself as a little girl sitting in a conference room chair. Nonetheless, she offers up an idea that they like.

Billy and Ally join Richard in his office to celebrate getting the Air National account. Richard pops the cork on a champagne bottle, and Billy suggests that since they have the glasses out, they should also welcome their new associate who won her case before the appeals court and helped land their new client. Billy looks into Ally's eyes and she says she has to go. He finds her in her office, staring out the window. (This is where she was at the beginning of this episode, when she was thinking back to how she fell in love with Billy.) Billy wonders if this is going to work, and Ally says he could be right and maybe he should leave. He says he came all the way from Michigan to work there, and Ally gets upset and says "Well if you hadn't gone to Michigan in the first place.." She turns around, then turns back to him and says "So, I still love you. I'm not afraid to admit it." "I still love you. But, I love the woman I'm married to," he says. She says she's not looking to go down that road again, she is just "admitting a difficulty." Ally says it will get easier in time. "How much time do you think?" Billy asks, echoing the conversation Ally and Georgia had earlier. When he leaves, she repeatedly hits her head against the door, telling herself "I have my health."

At the end of the day, Richard gets on the elevator with Ally. He tells her he knows it's none of his business, but you can't bank on love. "The only thing you can really take to the bank money," he says. "You make enough money, everything else will follow. That's a Fishism," Richard says.

As Ally walks home alone, again having flashbacks of her past with Billy, she admits to herself that she probably doesn't want to be too happy. "I actually like the quest the search. That's the fun. The more lost you are, the more you have to look forward to. What do you know? I'm having a great time and I don't even know it."

(Special note: This is the only summary/review that I have re-written since starting this site. I will not be re-writing any others. I realize some of my early summaries don't contain much information, but I have re-done this one only because so many people have yet to see the pilot. That is also why this summary is extremely detailed. I wanted those people to be able to read this and get the full impact of this episode.)

©1998 Dana Hagerty. All rights reserved.


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