Sending J.R. and Dusty to the Cotton Bowl for their big showdown at the end of “The Split” doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but who cares? The sequence is a logistical feat, and Larry Hagman and Jared Martin deliver terrific performances. This is one of those moments from the classic “Dallas” series that fans still talk about.
Leonard Katzman, who wrote and directed “The Split,” opens the scene with J.R. arriving at the stadium in his Mercedes. He drives through the gate, down the ramp and parks at the edge of the AstroTurf. This is the sort of thing Ewings can get away with. As J.R. gets out of his car and walks onto the field, we hear whirring, and then Katzman switches to a wide shot as Dusty’s helicopter floats in from the Dallas skyline and touches down on the 50-yard line.
The arrival is another example of how the Farlows are constantly one-upping the Ewings. Southfork is grand, but the Southern Cross is grander. Jock’s relationship with his sons is full of angst, while Clayton and Dusty get along just fine. One family spends years obsessing over the birth of their first grandson, and after he finally arrives, the other family ends up raising him.
Interestingly, J.R. doesn’t summon Dusty to the stadium because he wants him to turn over John Ross. No, this is about Sue Ellen. J.R. wants his wife back, and he knows to get her, he must first drive a wedge between her and Dusty. Why else does J.R. go to the trouble of insulting Dusty’s manhood and insinuating Sue Ellen and Clayton are sleeping together? This whole sequence is confirmation that J.R. still loves Sue Ellen.
As for the setting of the scene, the only reason to have it take place at the Cotton Bowl is for metaphorical value. J.R. and Dusty are a couple of gladiators, after all. And while I’m generally not a fan of excess – please note this site isn’t called “Dynasty Decoder” – there are times when big moments are called for. J.R.’s confrontation with the man who stole his woman is one such instance.
You also have to admire “Dallas” for going to all this trouble, as Martin recalls in Barbara A. Curran’s “Dallas: The Complete Story of the World’s Favorite Prime-Time Soap:”
“[T]he chopper had to arrive on time and touch down at the right spot, the light had to be constant, with no wind, Larry and I would be standing on the right spot, with the cameras rolling and in focus and if either actor came up dry all the elaborate step-by-step mechanics would need to be repeated – at great cost.”
TNT’s “Dallas” memorably paid tribute to Hagman and Martin’s scene at the end of its first episode, “Changing of the Guard,” when John Ross went to Cowboys Stadium to meet with Marta del Sol. Having those characters meet in that setting made no more sense than having J.R. meet Dusty at the Cotton Bowl.
But I loved it all the same.
Season 5, Episode 8
Airdate: November 27, 1981
Audience: 23.5 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings
Writer and Director: Leonard Katzman
Synopsis: Jock divides control of Ewing Oil among the family. Bobby decides against running for re-election. Donna’s book about Sam Culver is published, while Ray’s development deal hits a snag. Afton stops moonlighting for J.R. and spills his secrets to Cliff. J.R. tells Dusty he’ll never make Sue Ellen happy.
Cast: Bernard Behrens (Haskell), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Art Hindle (Jeff Farraday), Susan Howard (Donna Krebbs), Andy Jarrel (Neal Hart), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Howard Keel (Clayton Farlow), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Audrey Landers (Afton Cooper), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), Dennis Patrick (Vaughn Leland), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Debbie Rennard (Sly), Ted Shackelford (Gary Ewing), Barbara Stock (Heather Wilson), Robert Symonds (Martin Porter), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Cooper), Deborah Tranelli (Phyllis), David Tress (Walter Sher), Joan Van Ark (Valene Ewing), H.M. Wynant (Edward Chapman), Gretchen Wyler (Dr. Dagmara Conrad)