In “No Good Deed,” John Ross is jailed for a murder he didn’t commit and then savagely beaten by a couple of inmates who are connected to the real killers. The Ewings respond to this crisis by rallying around their tarnished golden boy, making this the first time the characters on TNT’s “Dallas” begin to feel like a real family. Not coincidentally, it’s also the first time the new show begins to really feel like the old one.
The original “Dallas” is often described as a series about rich people behaving badly, but the deeper truth is that “Dallas,” at its heart, was a show about family. TNT seems to fully realize this in “No Good Deed.” This is an hour of big, dramatic moments that once again demonstrate an essential “Dallas” tenet: No matter how much the Ewings fight among themselves, when outside forces descend upon Southfork, they all pull together.
Several scenes in this episode give me chills. In the first, Bobby is in the den, railing to his lawyer about J.R. and the plot to steal Southfork, when Ann enters the room with a stricken look on her face. “It’s John Ross,” she says. The goose bumps return in the next scene, when we see Bobby, Ann, Elena and Christopher burst through the emergency room doors and circle a badly shaken Sue Ellen.
As good as these moments are, “No Good Deed” also benefits from its many scenes of quiet familial warmth: J.R. arrives at John Ross’s hospital bedside in the dark of night and gently strokes his sleeping son’s hair. Bobby visits Miss Ellie’s grave and vows to protect the family, finally recognizing the people who live on the ranch matter more than the land itself. John Ross and Christopher stand in the Southfork driveway, shake hands and acknowledge they’re not that different from one another after all. “We’re both just trying to make our fathers proud,” Christopher says.
Then there are “No Good Deed’s” small but meaningful details: When a trembling Sue Ellen fumbles with a coffee dispenser in the hospital waiting room, Ann takes the cup and pumps the coffee for her. During a family conference in the Southfork living room, Ann rubs the back of a worried Elena. John Ross calls Sue Ellen “mama” when she brings him home from the hospital.
The nice thing about Julia Cohen’s script is that it doesn’t just make the Ewings feel like a real family, it also makes them feel like real individuals. “No Good Deed” is centered around the theme of sacrifice – Bobby offers to lift the ban on drilling the ranch, Sue Ellen surrenders her integrity, Christopher forgoes a piece of his gas hydrate project – and by seeing what the Ewings are willing to give up, we discover who these characters really are. (Shades of “Ellie Saves the Day,” one of the greatest episodes from the original series.)
“No Good Deed’s” most heartbreaking moment belongs to Sue Ellen, who musters the courage to bribe the medical examiner, only to discover her ethical lapse was for nothing. I can’t help but feel sorry for her when she stands at John Ross’s bedside and proudly predicts Marta’s death will be ruled a suicide, only to learn the charges against her son have been dropped because new evidence has emerged clearing him. It’s tragic stuff, but isn’t it nice to see Ann provide Sue Ellen with so much support and comfort throughout her ordeal?
Of course, the character who provides “No Good Deed” with its heart is the young man who is at the center of it all: John Ross. Yes, we feel sympathetic toward him after that savage beating, but those cuts and bruises merely symbolize how he’s finally become a flesh-and-blood character.
John Ross seems genuinely ashamed of his role in the plot to steal Southfork, as evidenced by his willingness to stay in jail rather than reveal his relationship with Marta and risk losing Elena’s faith in him. He also refuses to blame J.R. for his misfortune, another sign this is no longer the petulant brat we met in “Changing of the Guard.” I’ve been a fan of Josh Henderson’s from the beginning, but “No Good Deed” finally makes me a fan of John Ross.
“No Good Deed” is also distinguished by Michael Katleman’s arty direction, including the moody opening scene, where Henderson and Jordana Brewster’s faces fill the screen, recalling the tight close-ups that were a signature of the old “Dallas.” And while TNT’s show has a style all its own, there are times I wish it more deliberately mimicked its predecessor. How cool would it have been to hear a few notes of Jerrold Immel’s “Dallas” theme music when J.R. received the call about John Ross’s beating, the way we did in the classic episode “Swan Song,” when J.R. got the call Bobby was dying?
Katleman also does a masterful job in “No Good Deed’s” final scene, when Tommy backs Rebecca against the wall, threatens her and then plants his mouth on hers, thus revealing the Sutters aren’t siblings after all. I suspect that creepy buss will have “Dallas” fans buzzing today, but I hope they don’t allow the shock value to obscure all the warm and wonderful moments to be found in “No Good Deed.”
The Sutters may not be family, but after this episode the Ewings finally are, and my goodness, isn’t that nice to see?
‘NO GOOD DEED’
Season 1, Episode 8
Telecast: July 25, 2012
Writer: Julia Cohen
Director: Michael Katleman
Audience: 5 million viewers (including 3.3 million viewers on July 25, ranking 24th in the weekly cable ratings)
Synopsis: When Cano’s thugs beat John Ross in jail, Sue Ellen bribes the medical examiner to rule Marta’s death a suicide so her son will be freed. Her sacrifice is for naught: Christopher gives Cano the South American rights to his gas hydrate project, which prompts Cano to release evidence that clears John Ross. Christopher makes amends with John Ross and reconciles with Rebecca, who is later confronted by Tommy, who isn’t really her brother.
Cast: Amir Arison (Varun Rasmussen), Carlos Bernard (Vicente Cano), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Damon Carney (Paul Jacob), Akai Draco (Sheriff Derrick), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Julie Gonzalo (Rebecca Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Callard Harris (Tommy Sutter), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Glenn Morshower (Lou), Kevin Page (Bum), Marisol Ramirez (Detective), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing)