In “The Fourth Son’s” third act, Jock tells Ray he’s his father, a fact the Ewing patriarch didn’t discover until earlier in the episode but a truth he’s probably always known, deep down. The scene is beautifully written and performed, and no matter how often I watch it, it always moves me. “Dallas” simply doesn’t get better than this.
The sequence opens with Jock’s Lincoln Town Car kicking up dust as it comes down the gravel road toward Ray’s newly constructed rambler. Director Irving J. Moore brings us into the car for a close-up of Jim Davis, who looks serious as always but more pensive than usual. The Ewing patriarch is in the driver’s seat, but it isn’t clear where this journey is going to take him. You can feel the uncertainty.
When Jock parks the car and gets out, Ray puts down the ax he’s using to chop wood, takes the older man by the arm and leads him to the patio table. “Come on out of the sun,” Ray says, and with that single, small gesture, we’re reminded both of Jock’s mortality and the ranch foreman’s abiding affection for his boss and mentor.
Scriptwriter Howard Lakin’s dialogue in the conversation that follows is so good because it tells us so much. Almost every line signals something more than what’s actually being said.
Ray recalls his mother’s memories of her nursing days (“Seems like the only time in her life she ever felt useful.”) and we realize what a sad, unfulfilled life this woman must have led. He suggests telling the truth about his paternity could cause problems for Jock’s “family” and we known precisely what family member he’s referring to. Jock reminds Ray he’s “got a lot at stake here” and the line – along with the slight smile from Davis that accompanies it – lets us know how impressed Jock is with Ray’s willingness to sacrifice his right to share in the Ewing riches.
Davis is wonderful in this scene – strong and solemn, yet full of love and pride – and so is Steve Kanaly, who wears the mantle of plainspoken humility so convincingly, I wonder how much “acting” is taking place here. I don’t know if Davis and Kanaly were friends in real life, but my goodness, in this exchange, they make me believe in the respect their characters feel for each other.
Matters of Honor
The crux of Jock and Ray’s conversation – Jock wants to acknowledge Ray as his son, while Ray is “happy to leave things just the way they are” – reflects “The Fourth Son’s” broader theme, which is how doing the honorable thing sometimes means hurting others.
We see this at the end of the episode, when Jock summons Ray and the Ewings to the Southfork living room and tells them the ranch’s longtime foreman is the product of a wartime affair Jock confessed to Miss Ellie long ago. For Jock, acknowledging Ray is the right thing to do, but Ellie’s stony expression makes it clear her husband’s past indiscretion still hurts.
In the same spirit, Ray’s willingness to keep his paternity secret echoes the decision his mother, Margaret, made years earlier. For her, not telling Jock about Ray was a necessary sacrifice – but how did that affect Amos?
When we meet him in “The Fourth Son,” he’s a loathsome figure – character actor William Windom is perfectly unsavory in the role – but was Amos always this awful? Lakin’s dialogue suggests the character had a hard-knock life: He was a bastard son and a “4-F” who wasn’t physically qualified to serve his country, and then his fiancée came home from the war pregnant with another man’s child.
Yet Amos married Margaret anyway. Why? Was he willing to give Margaret his name and raise Ray as his own because he felt sorry for her? Or was it because he loved her? Either way, did he end up abandoning his family because the reality of the situation proved too difficult? At one point, Amos tells Jock, “I know she was in love with you. She never let me forget it.” The mystery of what really happened in Kansas lingers.
Questions of integrity and sacrifice also figure into Bobby’s storyline, where he must choose between keeping Jock’s commitment to Mort Wilkinson, a longtime Ewing Oil client, and honoring a deal Bobby himself made with Brady York. At one point, Bobby is ready to abandon Wilkinson – until he’s told Jock sealed the deal 20 years earlier with nothing more than a handshake. “That makes it sacred,” Bobby says.
The subplot where Mr. Eugene helps Bobby expose Sally’s dirty dealings also offers a play on “The Fourth Son’s” central theme. Eugene gives Bobby “carte blanche” to seek retribution from Sally, but the old man warns him: “You remember this: I plan to keep her.” A few moments later, while gazing at a framed picture of Sally, Eugene says, “What God and money hath joined together, let no man put asunder.”
Fathers and Sons and Fathers and Sons
Ultimately, “The Fourth Son” is an episode about fatherhood, which becomes one of the “Dallas” franchise’s most resilient themes, particularly in TNT’s new series.
Interestingly, the story told here wasn’t planned: According to Barbara Curran’s 2005 book “Dallas: The Complete Story of the World’s Favorite Prime-Time Soap,” Kanaly had grown frustrated with his role by the end of the third season, so the producers decided to make his character Jock’s illegitimate son to keep the actor from leaving the show. In retrospect, it seems like this is the direction “Dallas” was headed in all along. (Remember the classic second-season episode “Triangle,” when Jock gave Ray a plot of Southfork land?)
The irony is that while the “The Fourth Son” succeeds in rooting Ray more firmly in the “Dallas” mythos, it ends up doing just as much to burnish Jock’s reputation. After this episode, there are four Ewing sons but still only one father, and watching the way he acknowledges Ray makes us better understand why Jock is so revered.
‘THE FOURTH SON’
Season 4, Episode 7
Airdate: December 12, 1980
Audience: 27.9 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings
Writer: Howard Lakin
Director: Irving J. Moore
Synopsis: The sinking of the Bullocks’ tanker almost forces Bobby to stiff one of Ewing Oil’s longtime clients. When Bobby discovers J.R. and Sally faked the loss of the oil aboard the tanker, he turns the tables on them. Ray’s father Amos arrives and announces Ray’s real father is Jock, who welcomes Ray into the family.
Cast: E.J. André (Eugene Bullock), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Joanna Cassidy (Sally Bullock), John Crawford (Mort Wilkinson), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Ted Gehring (Brady York), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Culver), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), Jeanna Michaels (Connie), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), William Windom (Amos Krebbs)