In “Mastectomy, Part 1,” Miss Ellie gets breast cancer, probably becoming television’s first major character to have the disease. “Mastectomy, Part 2” is equally provocative, as the health crisis prompts the Ewings to ponder the meaning of beauty.
Who says “Dallas” isn’t deep?
In one of this episode’s best scenes, Sue Ellen and Pam debate attractiveness. When Sue Ellen declares she has “never met a man yet who thought of brains when he first looked at a woman,” her sister-in-law is incredulous. “Women don’t just exist for men,” Pam says.
To some, this scene is probably a little Nixon-goes-to-China. When it aired in 1979, “Dallas” – along with fellow hits “Charlie’s Angels” and “Three’s Company” – routinely touting the sex appeal of its lead actresses. Sue Ellen and Pam’s conversation suggests “Dallas” aspired to be something more, at least during the “Mastectomy” episodes.
The scene also invites us to wonder how the cancer storyline might have been different if Sue Ellen or Pam had been diagnosed with the disease instead of Miss Ellie. My take: It might have been more audacious to assign the disease to a younger character, but it wouldn’t have necessarily been more eye-opening.
Consider the “Mastectomy, Part 2” scene where Ellie, having returned home after her surgery, tries on dresses in her bedroom and decides none fit properly. She collapses in tears and Jock rushes to her side, telling her “it doesn’t matter.”
“Why doesn’t it matter?” Ellie says, sobbing. “Because I’m not young anymore? Don’t you think I care the way I look? Don’t you care?”
I’ll confess: I rarely think of Miss Ellie as a sexual character. The notion that a woman her age might want to be physically appealing to her husband hadn’t occurred to me, so this scene makes me appreciate how bold the “Mastectomy” episodes remain.
Ellie’s breakdown also offers another reminder – not that one is needed – of how good Barbara Bel Geddes and Jim Davis are in their roles. This is a big scene for the actors and they perform well, but they also excel in this episode’s quieter moments.
For example, at the end of “Mastectomy, Part 2,” Jock visits Bobby under the pretense of discussing Southfork business, but the conversation soon turns to Jock’s struggle to reconcile with Ellie. “I just had to have somebody to talk to,” Jock says. Davis delivers the line with such desperation, it’s hard to not be moved.
Ultimately, moments like these make “Mastectomy, Part 2” satisfying. This episode raises questions but doesn’t really answer them – and that’s OK, because the goal seems to be making viewers think for themselves.
‘MASTECTOMY, PART 2’
Season 3, Episode 10
Airdate: November 16, 1979
Audience: 22 million homes, ranking 5th in the weekly ratings
Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis
Director: Irving J. Moore
Synopsis: After her surgery, Miss Ellie struggles to cope with the loss of her breast. Digger urges her to leave Jock for him, but she turns him down and reconciles with Jock.
Cast: 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), Jared Martin (Dusty Farlow), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Keenan Wynn (Digger Barnes), John Zaremba (Dr. Harlan Danvers)