“Black Market Baby” isn’t about adoption as much as it’s about matrimony. The episode looks at the marriages of J.R. and Sue Ellen and Bobby and Pam and determines only one couple has a real partnership. Can you guess which?
The contrast between the two marriages is on display in the first scene, when the Ewings gather at Southfork to celebrate Jock and Miss Ellie’s anniversary. Unlike Bobby and Pam, who worked together to create a thoughtful gift to his parents – an engraved album filled with old family photos – Sue Ellen clearly got no help from J.R. when it came to choosing their present – an ugly African sculpture.
This isn’t the only area of her marriage where Sue Ellen is on her own.
J.R. neglects Sue Ellen sexually, so she has a desperate one-night stand with Ray. She also begins planning to adopt a baby on her own, not just because she craves love, but also because she feels insecure and believes a child will cement her place within the family.
Sue Ellen’s unlikely friendship with rough-around-the-edges Rita Briggs, the woman whose unborn baby she plans to adopt, underscores how starved for attention Sue Ellen is. What are the chances these two would become friends if a child wasn’t involved?
To further highlight Sue Ellen’s plight, “Dallas” shows Pam embarking on her own quest for fulfillment by resuming her career at The Store, “Dallas’s” version of Neiman Marcus.
Initially, this doesn’t sit well with Bobby, who can’t understand his wife’s desire to delay motherhood and argues with her about it. But unlike Sue Ellen, whose fights with J.R. always end with her in tears, Pam isn’t fazed by her marital spat. She tells her new boss Liz Craig she and Bobby fight “because we’re individuals” – one of several lines in this episode that echo the era’s I’m-OK-you’re-OK pop-psychobabble.
By the end of “Black Market Baby,” Bobby comes around and supports Pam’s career aspirations, while J.R. and Sue Ellen remain in turmoil.
After squelching her adoption scheme and sending Rita away, J.R. comes home to find Sue Ellen packing her suitcase to leave him. They argue, she slaps him and he throws her on the bed and kisses her, despite her repeated declarations she doesn’t “want” him. At one point, he flings his leg over hers to keep her from squirming. It’s one of the most disturbing images during the series.
Afterward, while Pam takes Bobby for a spin in her new Corvette – Bobby’s gift to his wife to celebrate her new job – J.R. leaves for work, telling Sue Ellen he’ll be home late.
Once again, Sue Ellen is on her own.
‘BLACK MARKET BABY’
Season 2, Episode 5
Airdate: October 15, 1978
Audience: 11.8 million homes, ranking 42nd in the weekly ratings
Writer: Darlene Craviotto
Director: Lawrence Dobkin
Synopsis: J.R. undermines Sue Ellen’s plan to adopt a young woman’s unborn baby. Pam resumes her retail career.
Cast: Barbara Babcock (Liz Craig), Talia Balsam (Rita Briggs), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), James Whitmore Jr. (Buzz Connors)