Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 1 – ‘Digger’s Daughter’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Digger's Daughter, Pam Ewing, Patrick Duffy, Victoria Principal

Just married

What a dark place “Dallas” is when we arrive!

“Digger’s Daughter,” the show’s first episode, was filmed in the real-life Dallas in early 1978, when the city was being walloped by its coldest-ever winter.

The result: The straightforward plot – boy marries girl, boy brings girl home, girl outwits boy’s scheming older brother – unfolds against a backdrop of deadened skies and stark landscapes, making it seem moodier and more metaphorical than the show’s producers probably intended.

For example, when Bobby and Pamela bounce up to the Southfork ranch to announce their elopement, Miss Ellie comes to the door wearing a heavy coat. It’s as if she’s warning Pam: This is a cold house, full of cold people. Enter at your own risk.

Later, J.R. stands on Southfork’s darkened front porch, stewing because he fears Bobby and Pam will soon give Jock his long-awaited first grandson. The camera pans above the porch to Bobby and Pam’s brightly lit bedroom window and we see how the couple is literally overshadowing J.R.

Also, when Ray tosses Pam into the freezing pond, is it not unlike the dangerous situation she has plunged into by marrying a Ewing?

Southfork lends itself to the atmospherics, too.

The ranch we know best – the one real-life Texans call the world’s second most famous white house – isn’t seen until “Dallas’s” second season. In “Digger’s Daughter” and the other inaugural episodes, another estate stands in for the Ewings’ homestead.

This Southfork is bigger and feels more mysterious. It sits in a sea of yellow grass, making it look a little lifeless, if not downright haunted.

Some of the performances in “Digger’s Daughter” are as unfamiliar as the setting. Victoria Principal is more relaxed here than in later seasons, and Larry Hagman’s initial outing as J.R. is more sinister than mischievous.

In this episode’s final scene, when J.R. declares he won’t underestimate Pam again, Hagman smiles – not with his mouth, but with his eyes.

It isn’t the J.R. grin we’re used to, but it still leaves us wanting more.

Grade: A

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dallas, Digger's Daughter, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman

Oh, brother

‘DIGGER’S DAUGHTER’

Season 1, Episode 1

Airdate: April 2, 1978

Audience: 15.7 million homes, ranking 18th in the weekly ratings

Writer: David Jacobs

Director: Robert Day

Synopsis: Bobby Ewing, son of a wealthy oil-and-cattle clan, marries Pamela Barnes, the daughter of his father’s enemy. Bobby’s brother J.R. tries to break up the marriage by recruiting her ex-boyfriend Ray Krebbs, the Ewings’ ranch foreman, to seduce her, but Pam turns the tables on Ray by threatening to expose his secret affair with Lucy, J.R. and Bobby’s teenage niece.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Donna Bullock (Connie), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Desmond Dhooge (Harvey), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Tina Louise (Julie Grey), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Bill Thurman (Phil Bradley), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), David Wayne (Digger Barnes)

“Digger’s Daughter” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com, iTunes and TNT.tv. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. I love the moody look of the first season. I wasn’t expecting that. I guess the producers probably weren’t either, but I think they made it work in their favor. Southfork 1.0 doesn’t exactly look like the most inviting place. Sure it’s spacious and lovely, but it can be a cold place too. I think all the characters feel that at times.

  2. Dan in WI says:

    Wow: 15.7 million viewers for an April mini-series. That is a number the new show wouldn’t have a clue how to react to… I suspect there would be heart attacks all around. I’m too young to have seen these earliest years first run. I started watching right around the introduction of Pricilla Pressley as Jenna. So I really don’t know how this mini-series was billed or what enticed viewers to tune in. I guess much of it can be chalked up to TV being a different animal then with so fewer options. Still, if you compare the 1980 and 2010 census numbers there are roughly 82 million more people today. You’d think that population increase would somewhat offset the more choices issue…

    I remember when I first saw these early episodes I just couldn’t believe all the heavy clothes these people were wearing. As a Wisconsin native I found myself wondering if there is a Dallas, WI unicorporated village I didn’t know of. Mother nature just doesn’t always cooperate with the wishes of producers I guess.
    Like most first seasons of long running shows this show had a ways to go to get to a point which we’d all recognize as Dallas. Ken plays this early Cliff so straight. I recall reading the character was intended to be a Bobby Kennedy type and you could see bits of that here but Cliff sure wouldn’t end up this way. We also have JR and Ray as allies which is so hard to imagine. I’d say the characters that are most recognizable in a time prizsm sense are JR and Lucy. JR is scheming from the very beginning and Lucy is a useless floozie. (I know there are plenty of Lucy lovers out there. But I was never one of them. The role of rebellious teen just always seemed out of place on this show to me. How many of the core storylines of this show needed a rebellious teen to move the plot forward in any way?) The other thing that just jumps out is Jock and Ray smoking on screen. I don’t think we ever saw another lit cigarette (outside of extras) after this mini-series.

  3. C.B., put the Dame Edna Larry Hagman appearances up on the DALLAS Decoder website. Fans will luv ’em boy!

Trackbacks

  1. […] “Digger’s Daughter,” the first episode, J.R. tells his younger brother that his buddy Ray, Pam’s ex-boyfriend, has […]

  2. […] Ellen has just four lines in “Digger’s Daughter,” “Dallas’s” first episode, but “John Ewing III, Part 2,” which debuted 369 days later, […]

  3. […] tend to like my “Dallas” dark, which might be why “Digger’s Daughter” is my favorite first-season entry. Some of this has to do with the writing, but a lot of it has to […]

  4. […] TNT’s “Dallas” pilot, “Changing of the Guard,” is chock full of allusions to “Digger’s Daughter,” the classic show’s first […]

  5. […] original “Dallas’s” pilot, “Digger’s Daughter,” opens with Bobby and Pam racing home to Southfork after their spur-of-the-moment elopement in New […]

  6. […] 15. Welcome to the family. On the day Bobby brings Pam (Victoria Principal) home to Southfork and introduces her as his new bride, J.R. cheerfully takes her outside for a pre-dinner tour of Miss Ellie’s garden, where he offers his new sister-in-law a bribe to “annul this farce.” When Bobby approaches with a concerned look on his face, J.R. explains he’s just “talking a little business” with Pam. “Mama don’t like business talk with supper on the table,” Bobby says. “Well, you know Mama. She’s so old-fashioned,” J.R. responds with a chuckle. It was the first time we heard his mischievous laugh, and it signaled the arrival of a different kind of villain. (“Digger’s Daughter”) […]

  7. […] character demonstrates this shift better than J.R. Since the scene in “Digger’s Daughter” where he gleefully tells Jock about his scheme to bribe Pam, we’ve watched J.R. struggle to make […]

  8. […] rich history. In the first, Cliff gets drunk in a dive bar, evoking memories of Digger’s debut in “Dallas’s” first episode. Later, Rebecca storms into Southfork, confronts Miss Ellie and points out how the Barnes men […]

  9. […] 10. Let the games begin. J.R. and Pam’s first fracas set the stage for all the fights that followed. On the day she arrived at Southfork, he gave her a friendly tour of the ranch – then offered her a bribe to leave: “I’m willing to spend some money now to avoid any inconvenience. But if you insist upon being driven away – which you surely will be – you’re going to come out of this without anything, honey.” Pam ignored J.R.’s offer, but maybe she should’ve taken the money and run. Think of all the pain she would’ve been spared! (“Digger’s Daughter”) […]

  10. […] J.R. meets his match. “Dallas’s” first episode ends with Pam turning the tables on J.R. (Larry Hagman) after he tries to make it look like she […]

  11. […] and driving away with little Christopher. It’s a landmark moment in the life of the series. “Digger’s Daughter” shows Bobby and Pam arriving at Southfork as newlyweds, and now she has spent her last night under […]

  12. […] the shot of his Mercedes rolling across the Southfork plains recalls a similar shot at the end of “Digger’s Daughter.” Also, during “The Road Back’s” cattle drive sequence, we hear Ray speak on his walkie-talkie […]

  13. […] “Digger’s Daughter,” “Dallas’s” first episode, J.R. (Larry Hagman) shows Pam (Victoria Principal) around the […]

  14. […] Instead, she connives behind his back – just like J.R. plotted behind Bobby and Pam’s backs in “Digger’s Daughter,” “Dallas’s” first […]

  15. […] “Digger’s Daughter” introduces Bobby as Ewing Oil’s “road man,” who supplies state legislators with broads and booze to get them to vote the company’s way. “Spy in the House” features a state senator who takes bribes. In “Old Acquaintance,” another senator’s mistress jeopardizes his appointment to a federal job. […]

  16. […] brings to mind one of the famous moments from the original “Dallas:” J.R.’s clash with Pam in “Digger’s Daughter” (Season 1, Episode 1). Like the 2013 version, the 1978 edition also ends with J.R. delivering an […]

  17. […] when he wasn’t around. After all, Digger’s name is included in the title of “Dallas’s” first episode, even though he shows up just once in that […]

  18. […] sparkling chemistry, the scene fills in some blanks for “Dallas” diehards. For example, “Digger’s Daughter” opens with Bobby and Pam stopping at a gas station not long after their spur-of-the-moment wedding […]

  19. […] Ewing (Patrick Duffy), the youngest son of a rich oil and cattle clan, marries Pam Barnes (Victoria Principal) and brings her home to Southfork, the Ewing ranch. This upsets […]

  20. […] first roll in the hay is still the hottest — and the ickiest, in retrospect. On the day Bobby brought home his new bride Pam, Lucy was in the hayloft getting chummy with Ray, who was still carrying a torch […]

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