Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 27 – ‘The Outsiders’

Dallas, Donna Culver, Outsiders, Ray Krebbs, Steve Kanaly, Susan Howard

Lady and the saddle tramp

“The Outsiders” is an interesting meditation on politics and marriage. It was made more than three decades ago, but it feels refreshing in ways other “Dallas” episodes do not.

For years, we’ve watched one real-life political wife after another humiliated by their philandering husbands. “The Outsiders” offers a role reversal: Donna Culver, the young bride of political elder Sam Culver, is the cheating spouse.

Donna may not be a good wife, but she isn’t a bad person, either. She turns to Ray because she feels sexually unfulfilled. Donna is 28, while her husband is probably supposed to be in his 60s of 70s. (In real life, when “The Outsiders” debuted, Susan Howard and John McIntire, the actors who play Donna and Sam, were 35 and 71, respectively.)

I like how “Dallas” doesn’t try to justify Donna’s indiscretion by making Sam a bad guy. In fact, the show goes out of its way to depict the marriage as loving, even if it isn’t physical. Sam and Donna are also partners in a way that feels wonderfully progressive: Sam, a onetime governor who still wields a lot of influence in state politics, boasts about how he makes no decision without first consulting Donna.

(You might even say the Culvers’ marriage presages the real-life union of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Sam’s bragging about his wife’s intelligence and political savvy recalls Bill Clinton’s famous pledge in 1992 that voters who elected him would get “two for the price of one.”)

Sam and Donna’s sense of partnership isn’t lost on Sue Ellen. When J.R. suggests Donna is probably physically neglected, Sue Ellen retorts, “If they never made love, J.R., she has much more than I have. He cares about her. He takes her advice and he listens to her.”

“The Outsiders” concludes with Ray and Donna’s heart-wrenching farewell, but but my favorite moment in this episode comes in an earlier scene, when they sit in a bar and she asks him why “happy endings” seem so elusive.

This conversation is nicely written by Leonard Katzman and beautifully performed by Steve Kanaly and Susan Howard, who is rivaled only by Patrick Duffy when it comes to delivering breathy, soul-searching dialogue.

With this episode, Howard becomes a welcome addition to the “Dallas” constellation. Her performance leaves us wanting more, and fortunately, we won’t have to wait long for Donna’s return.

Grade: A

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dallas, Donna Culver, John McIntire, Outsiders, Sam Culver

Old man out

‘THE OUTSIDERS’

Season 2, Episode 22

Airdate: March 16, 1979

Audience: 14.2 million homes, ranking 28th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Leonard Katzman

Director: Dennis Donnelly

Synopsis: When J.R. learns Ray is sleeping with Donna Culver, the young wife of political elder Sam Culver, he tries to blackmail her into persuading Sam to oust Cliff from his government perch. Instead, Donna ends the affair and comes clean to Sam, who forgives her and backs Cliff.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Meg Gallagher (Louella), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Culver), Dawn Jeffory (Annie Driscoll), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Joan Lancaster (Linda Bradley), John McIntire (Governor Sam Culver), Jeanna Michaels (Connie), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Clint Ritchie (Bud Morgan), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

“The Outsiders” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. Donna and Ray were one of my favorite couples on Dallas. Donna was a strong woman, whom I admired. I remember these episodes pretty well. I love this critique. I would also give this an A. Now would like to see these episodes again.

  2. Is it just me, or was there a little teaser in there at the end of the review? 😉

  3. I remember the scene in the bar where Donna was introduced. I thought it was interesting because she doesn’t make a dramatic entrance. In fact, it isn’t readily apparent that SHE’S the important character in that foursome in which we first encounter her.

  4. A great episode. Everyone is engaging and there’s a little for everyone. Sue Ellen is actually drunk at breakfast! She stumbles through the entire episode and the DOA meeting is quite funny, Donna, at this first introduction, is an interesting and watchable character. Ray is a lovable and handsome man, and their chemistry is very real. When JR tries to blackmail Donna at the mall, it’s a great moment. Hagman already has his character all locked up, it’s quite remarkable what he does with the character. Susan Howard has a great quality about her- although she seems to marry a much older rich man and then cheats on him, you actually feel sympathetic toward her and even like her, which is saying a lot for her personal charisma. She feels like she belongs with this cast from the get-go, it’s no wonder she comes back. It’s also nice how the show weaves the former episode about Kit into the front of this episode, making them feel connected. What’s great is that every episode has a plot in it that seems to begin and end even though it has already begun to take on serial aspects to it. The writing is great on the show.

    • I fell in love with Donna in this episode. Susan Howard is terrific, and I think you hit the nail on the head when you wrote she feels like she belongs with the cast from the get-go. So true! Thanks so much for your comment. I really appreciate it.

  5. Margaret Krebbs says:

    I started watching Dallas on DVD, and this is the episode that got me completely hooked. Donna is a rich character, and Susan Howard is a generous actor. Donna brings out something in Ray we never saw before. He seems more complex, wise and more fragilely human than before, even in “Triangle.”

    Ray “rescues” Donna who interestingly didn’t need rescuing from the rough and tumble cowboys, but from the suit and tie bankers she came to the bar with. That’s kind of her entire character summed up in her very first scene on the show.

    Then Ray seems downright philosophical when they discuss the possibility of a “happy ending.” His insight and intelligence are just as much the reason Donna falls for Ray as his rugged sex appeal. How unfortunate that Ray never really understood how smart he really was.

    I think it’s Donna’s struggling to explain her predicament to Bobby in the middle of the episode that solidifies the Donna character for me. She’s already head over heals about Ray, because her feelings for Ray are indescribable. When Bobby asks Donna why she chose Ray to have an affair with, Donna asks Bobby why he chose Pam. Her conflict makes her sympathetic and caring. She seems like a woman who feels and loves intensely and unorthodoxly. First Sam, now Ray.

    I love the scene at the end of the episode when Ray mentions how strange it is for he and Donna to be meeting “out in the open.” When Donna tells Ray she’s married it’s all out in the open now. She’s confessed to her husband too – JR may have forced her hand sooner than she would have wanted – but I like to think Donna wouldn’t have cuckolded Sam for too much longer. Ray and Donna parting is inevitable and seems quietly melodramatic in the best sense. Their illicit affair turned into a love affair. And of course all of this plays out as a side bar to the Ewings scheming and glad handing their way to more money, more power and more control.

    • This is one of my favorite episodes and I really love what you’ve written here. You’ve made some terrific observations. Thank you for sharing them. Now I want to go watch “The Outsiders” again!

  6. Anonymous says:

    I am watching CBS Dallas after becoming a fan of DallasTNT and wanting to get the back story. I was so impressed by Donna’s honest behavior and her refusal to play J.R.’s game. She defeated J.R. not because she tried to outsmart him but because she chose to act with integrity which is something J.R. can’t understand. On Dallas TNT Pamela Rebecca’s refusal to be blackmailed by John Ross even though it costs her Christopher reminded me of Donna’s behavior. I am shocked by Sue Ellen’s drinking. I know that FAS was only described in the early 70’s but I am floored by how much she is drinking. On to season 2 episode 28.

  7. The scenes between Donna & J. R. are great! But Ray Krebbs is superb in his heartbreak as he has bonded with Donna Culver sexually & spiritually, but he realizes that the right & ethical thing IV her to do is to go back to her husband Sam Culver. Even if means that the Ewings lives will be more miserable!

  8. Ian Delaney says:

    Although Donna always came across as a mature and thoughtful character, of all the episodes in Season 2 in Dallas I always felt that this one stretched credibility.

    What bothered me about this particular episode is that Sam Culver appears to be a man who is incapable of making decisions without consulting his wife and yet he is obviously a seasoned political operator, having held power as a Senator and still retains a degree of political clout. It is quite hard to believe that someone in this position would defer to their wife all the time. Donna is obviously intelligent and brave enough to stand up to JR’s blackmailing tactics, but she is also married to a man practically old enough to be her father who doesn’t make a move unless she gives the go ahead? I could be wrong but this didn’t strike me as a very believable storyline.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Cliff was running the Office of Land Management and putting the screws to the Ewings, J.R. tried to blackmail Donna Culver, Sam’s young bride, into persuading her husband to oust Cliff from his perch. Instead, Donna […]

  2. […] “The Outsiders,” a second-season “Dallas” episode, Donna (Susan Howard) has drinks at the Longhorn Bar with Ray […]

  3. […] this single line, Paulsen manages to encapsulate Donna’s entire history with Ray, including her affair with him during her marriage to Sam Culver and when she rescued Ray from depression after Jock’s […]

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