Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 10 – ‘Black Market Baby’

Black Market Baby, Dallas, Linda Gray, Pam Ewing, Sue Ellen Ewing, Victoria Principal

Scene from a mall

“Black Market Baby” isn’t about adoption as much as it’s about matrimony. The episode looks at the marriages of J.R. and Sue Ellen and Bobby and Pam and determines only one couple has a real partnership. Can you guess which?

The contrast between the two marriages is on display in the first scene, when the Ewings gather at Southfork to celebrate Jock and Miss Ellie’s anniversary. Unlike Bobby and Pam, who worked together to create a thoughtful gift to his parents – an engraved album filled with old family photos – Sue Ellen clearly got no help from J.R. when it came to choosing their present – an ugly African sculpture.

This isn’t the only area of her marriage where Sue Ellen is on her own.

J.R. neglects Sue Ellen sexually, so she has a desperate one-night stand with Ray. She also begins planning to adopt a baby on her own, not just because she craves love, but also because she feels insecure and believes a child will cement her place within the family.

Sue Ellen’s unlikely friendship with rough-around-the-edges Rita Briggs, the woman whose unborn baby she plans to adopt, underscores how starved for attention Sue Ellen is. What are the chances these two would become friends if a child wasn’t involved?

To further highlight Sue Ellen’s plight, “Dallas” shows Pam embarking on her own quest for fulfillment by resuming her career at The Store, “Dallas’s” version of Neiman Marcus.

Initially, this doesn’t sit well with Bobby, who can’t understand his wife’s desire to delay motherhood and argues with her about it. But unlike Sue Ellen, whose fights with J.R. always end with her in tears, Pam isn’t fazed by her marital spat. She tells her new boss Liz Craig she and Bobby fight “because we’re individuals” – one of several lines in this episode that echo the era’s I’m-OK-you’re-OK pop-psychobabble.

By the end of “Black Market Baby,” Bobby comes around and supports Pam’s career aspirations, while J.R. and Sue Ellen remain in turmoil.

After squelching her adoption scheme and sending Rita away, J.R. comes home to find Sue Ellen packing her suitcase to leave him. They argue, she slaps him and he throws her on the bed and kisses her, despite her repeated declarations she doesn’t “want” him. At one point, he flings his leg over hers to keep her from squirming. It’s one of the most disturbing images during the series.

Afterward, while Pam takes Bobby for a spin in her new Corvette – Bobby’s gift to his wife to celebrate her new job – J.R. leaves for work, telling Sue Ellen he’ll be home late.

Once again, Sue Ellen is on her own.

Grade: A


Black Market Baby, Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Buy buy baby


Season 2, Episode 5

Airdate: October 15, 1978

Audience: 11.8 million homes, ranking 42nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Darlene Craviotto

Director: Lawrence Dobkin

Synopsis: J.R. undermines Sue Ellen’s plan to adopt a young woman’s unborn baby. Pam resumes her retail career.

Cast: Barbara Babcock (Liz Craig), Talia Balsam (Rita Briggs), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), James Whitmore Jr. (Buzz Connors)

“Black Market Baby” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.


  1. Destinee says:

    This was the episode that cemented my fanatic status of Dallas. We’ve got that amazing Sue Ellen and JR tension just oozing at every turn. The scene where she comes down the staircase and just stares in his face without saying a word was like “WHOA”. And of course, the fabulous slow roll of her Mercury Colony Park wagon as she pulled into the ghetto with that funky beat.

  2. Look at the new film “Philomena” with Dame Commander & Academy Award (TM) Winner Judi Dench. Her character’s son was sold out from under her by the nuns for under the table black market cash. Plus, Hollywood bombshell Jane Russell adopted a baby for $1,000.00 under the table from that very same orphanage & left an autographed picture on the wall of herself!

    • Judi Dench was terrific in “Philomena,” although that’s not much of a surprise. She’s always good. Speaking of Jane Russell: Didn’t she have a role on “The Yellow Rose,” NBC’s short-lived prime-time soap from 1983?

  3. Just found out Rita Briggs (Talia Balsam) went on to marry George Clooney. Bet she’s glad J.R. sent her on that bus to California!

  4. Ian Delaney says:

    It struck me that the characters of Rita Briggs and Sue Ellen were about as far apart as you could possibly get. Rita very much comes across as “rough and read” with an attitude to boot and it was difficult to ascertain just how they were going to get along, despite Sue Ellen’s best efforts to forge an amicable friendship.

    This episode seems to convey the old adage that “money can buy anything”, in this case another woman’s baby. Rita does not really come across as a sympathetic character and this is made obvious by her overt resentment towards Sue Ellen as someone with wealth, who is able to purchase what she wants even if this means breaking the law.

    There is an earlier echo here i guess of what happened when Bobby illegally adopted Kristen’s son Christopher and managed to cover his tracks. I always wondered whether they should have brought back the character of Rita as I think it would have made for an interesting story line.

    I believe that in a later episode of “Dallas” Sue Ellen makes reference to Rita and the fact that she was packed off to California by J.R., the implication being that she wonders what became of her and the baby. But it went no further than this so perhaps the scriptwriters may have missed a good opportunity here.


  1. […] “Black Market Baby” is the most intriguing, “For Love or Money” is the saddest and “Royal Marriage” is a sentimental favorite, but “John Ewing III, Part 2” gets my vote for the season’s all-around best episode. Linda Gray is mesmerizing in the scene where Sue Ellen tearfully confesses her sins to Bobby, but Larry Hagman, Ken Kercheval and Victoria Principal all have terrific moments too. […]

  2. […] episodes like “Lessons,” when she rescues Lucy from her high school blackmailer, and “Black Market Baby,” when she stands up to Bobby’s chauvinism. Victoria Principal always delivers great performances […]

  3. […] invites comparisons to another disturbing “Dallas” sequence — this one from the 10th episode, “Black Market Baby” — when J.R. angrily pins Sue Ellen to their bed and forces himself on her, despite her repeatedly […]

  4. […] “Black Market Baby,” a second-season “Dallas” episode, Pam (Victoria Principal) is in Sue Ellen’s bedroom, where […]

  5. […] similar theme is explored during an earlier second-season episode, “Black Market Baby,” when Bobby objects to Pam’s desire to delay motherhood so she can pursue a career. In […]

  6. […] her onto the bed – and we’re reminded of another second-season scene: the disturbing climax in “Black Market Baby,” when J.R. forces himself on his unhappy […]

  7. […] The only Ewing who doesn’t seem to be changing is Sue Ellen. Following her triumphant confrontation with Kristin at the end of “Who Done It?”  Sue Ellen reverts back to J.R.’s dutiful wife in this installment, even allowing him to “seduce” her in a scene that recalls the disturbing quasi-marital-rape sequence in “Black Market Baby.” […]

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