Critique: TNT’s Dallas Episode 9 – ‘Family Business’

Dallas, Family Business, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, TNT

The man who came around

“Family Business” offers nothing less than the redemption of J.R. Ewing. In this deeply poignant episode, our aging antihero is called upon to face hard truths and make tough choices, and for once in his life, he does the right thing. By the time the closing credits roll, J.R. has a grown as a person. “Dallas” has grown too.

Rather brilliantly, “Family Business” ends with Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” playing under a series of chilling scenes that leave the fates of several characters hanging in the balance. J.R. is not among them, but no matter. There’s no doubt the song is meant to evoke the journey he takes in this episode, when one by one, the three people J.R. loves most – John Ross, Sue Ellen and Bobby – persuade him to end the war for Southfork.

These are moving, meaningful scenes. In the first, John Ross pleads with J.R. to give the ranch back to Bobby, prompting J.R. to ask his son, “What’s gotten into you, anyhow?” John Ross’s cutting response: “A little decency.” Later, Sue Ellen storms into the room, slaps J.R. and reminds him how his past schemes left him with “nothing.” When J.R. remains defiant (“Well, I’m back honey, and I’m gonna be bigger than ever.”), Sue Ellen’s exasperation dissolves into pity. “And you still have nothing,” she says.

Only after J.R. speaks with Bobby does he finally, fully see the light. In the scene, Bobby sits in his sickbed and gently admonishes his oldest brother, then tells him, “J.R., I love you. No matter what. You remember that.” J.R.’s face falls – and with it, so do the last vestiges of his bravado. “Well,” he says softly, “My memory’s not what it used to be either. You’re just going to have to keep telling me.”

In each of these scenes, director Michael M. Robin’s clever staging tells us as much as scriptwriter Bruce Rasmussen’s heartfelt dialogue. J.R.’s confrontation with Sue Ellen ends with him standing in front of a mirror that reflects the back of his head, a reminder that there is another side of J.R., even when he can’t see it himself. In the exchange with John Ross, J.R. sits on his bed while the younger man stands over him, symbolizing how the son has achieved moral superiority over the father. In the third scene, the positions are reversed: Bobby is in bed, while J.R. stands. This is when we know J.R., who has always been the big brother, is about to become a bigger man.

Indeed, the next time we see J.R., he is sitting alone in his bedroom, staring at the Southfork deed, a glass of bourbon to his right, his old oil-derrick model to the left. With heavy eyes, he glances at the framed picture of Miss Ellie, sips his drink, puts pen to paper and finally returns ownership of the ranch to Bobby.

The man has come around.

‘He’s J.R. Ewing’

Dallas, Family Business, John Ross Ewing, Josh Henderson, TNT

Scarred inside, too

If there is justice in television, “Family Business” will be the episode that earns Larry Hagman an Emmy next year. The actor is full of wicked charm here, but more than anything, his performance has heart. J.R. has never felt so human.

And while we’re on the subject: Is it too much to ask for Patrick Duffy to receive some Emmy recognition too? I love the sad-eyed, world-weary demeanor he brings to his scenes with Hagman, but Duffy also deserves praise for making Bobby’s seizures look and feel frighteningly real.

Among the younger actors, I’m most impressed by Julie Gonzalo, who knocks me out with Rebecca’s hopeless desperation in “Family Business’s” final scene, when Rebecca turns the gun on Tommy (“Please, please you have to go!”), as well as Josh Henderson, who shows us what John Ross is made of during his character’s confrontation with J.R.

Henderson also shines when John Ross stands in the Southfork driveway and pours out his heart to Elena. “I spent my entire life missing him, wanting to be with him, wanting to be him,” John Ross says of his father. After a beat, he adds: “He’s J.R. Ewing” – letting us know the son’s mistake wasn’t that he failed to live up to his father’s legend, but that he tried in the first place. The “Dallas” makeup artists might be responsible for the cuts and bruises on John Ross’s face, but Henderson gets the credit for showing us the scars his character carries around on the inside.

Other great “Family Business” moments: Christopher reminds John Ross that Bobby was like a surrogate father to him growing up and later proposes going into business with John Ross and Elena – signaling the beginning of an intriguing story arc for the series. Meanwhile, after Harris tries to blackmail Sue Ellen – and mocks her sobriety by pouring her a glass of wine – she confides in Ann her plan to drop out of the gubernatorial race. “I would have made a good governor, don’t you think?” Sue Ellen asks through wet eyes. Has Linda Gray ever been more heartbreaking?

Speaking of Ann: Brenda Strong is wonderful in the scenes that depict her character as devoted wife and friend, but I get the biggest kick out of seeing Ann spar with her wily brother-in-law. I loved J.R. and Ann’s storage barn encounter in “The Price You Pay” and their heated exchange in “Truth and Consequences,” but the “Family Business” scene where she chases him out of Bobby’s room (“Don’t you darlin’ me!”) is the best of the lot. Strong is one of the few actors on the TNT show who can hold her own against the mighty Hagman in every way.

‘Hear the Trumpets, Hear the Pipers’

Dallas, Family Business, Julie Gonzalo, Rebecca Sutter Ewing, TNT

Have gun, will unravel

“Family Business” is a technical achievement as much as anything. Since TNT’s series began, I’ve sometimes struggled to get used to the background music, which is so different from what we heard on the old show. But the new style really works here. Rob Cairns scores several scenes in this episode with sentimental strings, which fit well with the intimate atmospherics.

Of course, “Family Business’s” standout sequence is that Johnny Cash montage. Notice how perfectly his haunting lyrics match what we see on screen. Rebecca pulls the gun out of the safe deposit box as Cash sings, “The hair on your arms will stand up.” Tommy’s face fills the frame when we hear, “Whoever is filthy, let him be filthy still.” Bobby’s monitor flatlines as Cash’s voice booms, “Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers.” And then the punctuation: the ping of the shell casing hitting the counter as blood splatters the stuffed animals Rebecca brought home at the top of the hour.

After I saw this sequence for the first time, I went back and watched it again and again, reveling in how good it is. It reminded me of how I kept “A House Divided,” the episode where J.R. gets shot, on a seemingly endless loop when I was a kid.

But the comparison goes beyond the fact both episodes end with gunshots. The original “Dallas” was never the same after “A House Divided,” and “Family Business” feels destined to become a landmark episode too. I have a hunch we’ll one day look back and remember this as the moment the TNT series became the show we always knew it could be.

Grade: A+

_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dallas, Family Business, TNT

Blood monkeys

‘FAMILY BUSINESS’

Season 1, Episode 9

Telecast: August 1, 2012

Writer: Bruce Rasmussen

Director: Michael M. Robin

Audience: 4.8 million viewers (including 3.2 million viewers on August 1, ranking 17th in the weekly cable ratings)

Synopsis: After Elena discovers a way to extract Southfork oil from a neighboring property, John Ross, Christopher and Elena form a company, Ewing Energies. When Harris tries to blackmail Sue Ellen, she decides to quit the gubernatorial race rather than submit to his scheme. Bobby is diagnosed with a cerebral aneurysm, prompting J.R. to return ownership of Southfork to him. After Bobby learns he may have to incriminate J.R. in the fraud, he suffers a seizure. Tommy is revealed to be working with Frank Ashkani, Cliff’s henchman, who tells Tommy his services are no longer required. Tommy attacks a gun-wielding Rebecca; the weapon fires during their struggle.

Cast: Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Mari Deese (bank manager), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Marlene Forte (Carmen Ramos), Julie Gonzalo (Rebecca Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Callard Harris (Tommy Sutter), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), John McIntosh (Dr. Bennett), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Glenn Morshower (Lou), Kevin Page (Bum), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Tina Parker (nurse), Faran Tahir (Frank)

“Family Business” is available at DallasTNT.com, Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. This was a very sad and happy episode. For the first time ever, I felt sorry for J.R. This felt like a cliffhanger. I can’t wait for next week’s episode.

  2. I agree strongly with the A+ Grade. This is the best written, produced, and directed episode of Dallas on TNT. When Bobby reminded J.R. that he loves him, I was thinking of all the times in the origional series when J.R. would say to him – “Bobby, you are my brother and I love you” . When Ann told JR that if he kept trying to come upstairs she would shoot him dead, reminded me of the scene when JR pulled a gun on Clayton Farlow when he tried to go up the same set of stairs to see Miss Ellie.

    I am excited to see how the story line of Sue Ellen being blackmailed will evolve. This is “Dallas” so anything can happen! It looked like Ann Ewing is going to go to great lengths to help Sue Ellen, based on what I saw in the previews for the upcoming episode.

    Rebecca’s character may evolve into one of the most interesting of the show! WOW!!! THere is much more to her than meets the eye.

    • Thank you! I’m glad you agree with my “A+” grade. I think you’re absolutely correct about Rebecca: She’s becoming one of the show’s most interesting characters.

  3. Wonderful assessment! I concur with you across the board. I loved this episode on so many levels. This episode was a home run. I am amazed at how much happens in a single episode of this new Dallas. When I start to dissect it, I have to keep adding to my points. I love the nuanced writing and the performances in this show were spot on. A lot of very touching scenes. Got to love it when you get angst, humor, terror, pity, frustration, cruelty, sorrow, love, etc all from one episode. LOVED IT.

  4. I’m Lady G and I approve of this episode! Wow, it made me teary-eyed. I love all the structured scenes between the original characters. Putting Bobby in so much danger is killing me though. I totally agree about Bobby’s sad-eyed world weariness. i find that Duffy brings that to many of his roles. Either that or squinty eyed joy, when he was sitcom dad Frank Lambert. I wish Hagman and Duffy can get an Emmy! At least a nod. And that ending was great. But I sincerely hope it’s not Rebecca shot. The poor babies. The scene was very telling though. Now we know that it was Rebecca’s plot all along to steal the Ewing millions. Tough guy Tommy was the stooge. And what he said about one of the richest men in the world. Who would have thought Cliff Barnes would be? One thing, they made a big show of J.R getting in on that exclusive Poker game with Barnes, but nothing came of it? We need to see more of Cliff, I guess in the finale.

    I had to laugh at J.R’s little quips in this episode, even to his ailing brother. Like Wife #3 packing heat. He’s a snark machine, I find myself laughing in the original too. Love when he always tells Cliff Barnes at the Cattlemen’s Club – “Looks like they’ll let just about anyone in here these days.”

  5. Anonymous says:

    beautyfully crafted episode. deserves to be nominated for an emmy, certainly in writing and directing and for some of the actors. didn’t sound or look like a soap opera. really superior stuff.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Best show on TV

  7. My is that deleted scene where JR states he’s going after Ryland something else. How could that have been deleted? It sure makes me wish that instead of just giving deleted scenes we could have had director’s cuts.

    • I think I’ve read Cynthia Cidre say she originally planned to have J.R. confront Ryland but abandoned the idea because Ann is the character who has the “history” with him. I think that makes sense, although I must say: Watching J.R. take down Ryland would’ve been a lot of fun.

      Thanks for your comment!

      • I loved that scene as well…the deleted JR and Ann scene. And the one on with JR and SEat the hospital. Iwas initially quite perturbed that they were cut. But after thinking about it…it makes sense in the Ann story. Based on the synopsis of upcoming season 2 episodes, Ryland clearly has Ann in his rifle sight and is gunning to cause her pain and problems. In order to make that storyline more plausible….(ie why after all these years is he trying to torment her…he clearly had not been bothering her prior to this season). There needed to be a catalyst. Her confronting him and getting in his way of blackmailing SE is a huge catalyst for him to really start after her. I would have loved to see JR go after Ryland…that would be delish…but I like that Ann did as well.

        By the way, love the line JR told SE…..You have GOT to fight Ryland. You are a fighter. That is how you survived being married to me all of those years

      • Yes! That’s a great scene too. I always like when we see J.R. serving as Sue Ellen’s champion.

  8. Dan in WI says:

    Another thought. While it doesn’t happen often (as Bobby said JR’s lapses are when he does good) there is precident for his returning Southfork to Bobby. Recall as the JR/Westar oil tanker collision storyline was coming to a close and it looked like Ewing Oil was going to take the hit for it, JR marched into Bobby’s office in #321 “Judgement Day” giving Bobby the Jock portrait stating he doesn’t deserve to have it and a document taking full personal resposibilty for the Ewing tanker and as such absolving Ewing Oil.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] “Family Business,” the episode where J.R. returns the Southfork deed to Bobby, is as good as any of the best entries from the classic series. This intimate hour offered poignant performances from Hagman and Patrick Duffy, but no one moved me like Josh Henderson, especially in the scene where John Ross pours out his heart to Elena about his failure to live up to J.R.’s legend (“I spent my entire life missing him, wanting to be with him, wanting to be him.”). [...]

  2. [...] battle culminates in “Family Business,” an instant-classic episode from the new show. In a poignant scene, J.R. sits at a table in his [...]

  3. [...] from the new “Dallas’s” creative team, which gave J.R. some of his best-ever material. (“Family Business,” the first season’s penultimate episode, written by Bruce Rasmussen and directed by Michael M. [...]

  4. [...] 25 deleted scenes, including three sequences starring Hagman. My favorite: a moving exchange from “Family Business” in which J.R. promises Ann he’ll protect Sue Ellen from Harris. I won’t give away anything else [...]

  5. [...] 25 deleted scenes, including three sequences starring Hagman. My favorite: a moving exchange from “Family Business” in which J.R. promises Ann he’ll protect Sue Ellen from Harris. I won’t give away anything else [...]

  6. [...] grow as a character. Larry Hagman’s iconic villain threw audiences for a loop last year when he returned ownership of Southfork to Bobby, and he surprises us again in “Venomous Creatures” when he fights to [...]

  7. [...] how closely Ann’s shooting of Harris mirrors Pamela’s shooting of Tommy in last season’s “Family Business,” right down to the victim’s slow-motion fall to the floor. There’s one big difference, of [...]

  8. [...] to take advantage of Uncle Bobby after his shooting, it also recalls my favorite J.R./John Ross scene from last season. Back then, the roles were reversed: John Ross was the one who pleaded with J.R. [...]

  9. [...] is what moves me. This is where our hero glanced at Miss Ellie’s picture before signing over the Southfork deed to Bobby last season. It’s where he told John Ross to never take advantage of the family when [...]

  10. [...] one of my favorite moments from TNT’s other great “Dallas” episode, the first-season entry “Family Business.” In that scene, J.R. sits at the same table, glances at a picture of Miss Ellie and takes a swig of [...]

  11. [...] The man comes around. The TNT episode “Family Business” ends on a thrilling note: With Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” playing in the [...]

  12. [...] more moralistic. We saw this for the first time last season, when he tried to persuade J.R. to give up his battle for Southfork, and now we see it again in this scene with Uncle [...]

  13. […] Hagman did some of the best work of his career on the TNT series. One example: last year’s “Family Business” episode, which showcased his powerful, poignant portrait of the aging […]

  14. […] by this rule, as Bobby and the other Ewings would surely attest. One example: In the TNT episode “Family Business,” when J.R. resists John Ross’s plea to give Southfork back to the cancer-stricken Bobby, J.R. […]

  15. […] Episode: “Family Business.” In one of Hagman’s most poignant performances, J.R. learns Bobby is secretly battling cancer and […]

  16. […] the newer bedroom has become a consequential place in its own right. This is where Sue Ellen once slapped J.R. and where she got drunk on the night before his funeral. It’s where John Ross defended his […]

  17. […] Ross sees himself as being a better man than J.R. We witnessed this in the first-season classic “Family Business,” when John Ross urged J.R. to return ownership of Southfork to the cancer-stricken Bobby, and we see […]

  18. […] Ellen’s name through the mud during their custody fight over John Ross? Or how about the time he returned ownership of Southfork to […]

  19. […] wisdom that “real power is something you take”; the poignant confrontation where John Ross pleaded with J.R. to return ownership of the ranch to the cancer-stricken Bobby; the first-season finale, […]

  20. […] p.m. Bloody monkeys, Johnny Cash and the redemption of J.R. Ewing. It’s “Family Business” — one of my favorite episodes of this […]

  21. […] technology and then that she and Tommy were actually lovers, not brother and sister. Then she was forced to shoot him dead in self-defense. And then we found out in the season finale that she is actually Pamela Rebecca […]

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 267 other followers

%d bloggers like this: