“Trouble at Ewing 23” is a decent “Dallas” episode until the fourth act, when everything falls apart. Or is blown apart, to be more precise.
The episode starts off strongly when Ray runs into Miss Ellie in the stable, where he thanks her for welcoming him into the family. Ellie is gracious, but she also expresses concern for Ray. “You’re a Ewing now,” she says. “That’s a lot to take on all at once. I know.” Barbara Bel Geddes and Steve Kanaly each do a nice job in this scene, which helps establish the special bond Ellie and Ray develop as “Dallas” progresses.
“Trouble at Ewing 23’s” other highlight: the scene where Pam drops by Cliff’s apartment unannounced, not knowing Donna is about to arrive for a romantic dinner. When Pam spots a bottle of imported wine chilling in the corner, she realizes Cliff is expecting a woman and teases him.
“It’s the first date,” she says. “Chinese on the second, tacos on the third. Funny how I know all this, isn’t it?” This is a cute scene, well played by Ken Kercheval and Victoria Principal, whose on-screen relationship is one of “Dallas’s” most believable.
Nice moments like these stand in contrast with the rest of “Trouble at Ewing 23,” which isn’t very good. By the fourth act, the show has abandoned everyone else’s storylines to focus on the subplot about a disgruntled Ewing Oil employee’s threat to blow up the drill site in the episode’s title, which J.R. shut in “A House Divided” to prevent Cliff from sharing in the profits.
I like the idea of showing how J.R.’s vindictiveness has unintended consequences – it turns out Gillis, the angry worker, wants revenge because he lost his job when the field closed – but the plot’s execution is lame.
Why does Gillis demand use of the Ewing jet to make his escape? Isn’t he afraid J.R. and Bobby will have police waiting to arrest him when he lands? When the field crew goes looking for Gillis’s hidden-in-plain-sight bombs, why don’t they find them? How long does it take to scour an oil field, anyway?
When the field finally goes up in flames, the special effects are spectacularly fake, but I don’t get too worked up about that. After all, this production is by Lorimar, not Lucasfilm.
Besides, by the time Gillis hits the detonator, my willingness to suspend my disbelief has long since disappeared.
‘TROUBLE AT EWING 23’
Season 4, Episode 8
Airdate: December 19, 1980
Audience: 26.3 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings
Writer: Louie Elias
Director: Leonard Katzman
Synopsis: Miss Ellie welcomes Ray. Donna tells him she’s dating Cliff. Pam’s detective finds evidence her mother didn’t die. A disgruntled employee threatens to blow up Ewing 23 if Bobby doesn’t meet his ransom demands. J.R.’s security guards shoot the worker, who detonates the explosives before dying.
Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Michael Bell (Les Crowley), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Meg Gallagher (Louella), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Laurence Haddon (Franklin Horner), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Richard Herd (John Mackey), Susan Howard (Donna Culver), Sherril Lynn Katzman (Jackie), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Jeanna Michaels (Connie), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Warren Vanders (Harry Owens)