Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 32 – ‘The Silent Killer’

Dallas, Digger Barnes, Keenan Wynn, Silent Killer

The rogue

“Dallas” recasts two pivotal roles in “The Silent Killer:” Keenan Wynn succeeds David Wayne as Digger Barnes and Mary Crosby replaces Colleen Camp as Kristin Shepard. Both newcomers instantly put their own stamp on the characters.

Wayne played Digger during “Dallas’s” earliest episodes, offering an angry performance that helped establish the show’s dark tone when it began. Wayne beautifully captured Digger’s broken spirit, earning the “special guest star” billing he received during his appearances.

The moment Wynn appears in “The Silent Killer,” it’s clear “Dallas” is taking Digger in a different direction. Wynn is taller than his predecessor, and with his bushy beard and cheap fedora, he comes off as more of a charming rogue than a pitiful drunk.

Wynn’s Digger is also mellower. In “The Silent Killer’s” first act, he tells Cliff, “I only want what’s coming to me. I don’t want to see Jock Ewing flat broke.” It’s hard to imagine Wayne delivering that line.

Crosby reinvents her character, too. Camp’s unconventional beauty was unique, but in Crosby’s hands, Kristin is slyer and more seductive. Neither Camp nor Crosby particularly look like they could be Linda Gray’s sister, but Crosby’s bitchy chemistry with Gray is undeniable, as demonstrated in the scene where Kristin asks Sue Ellen if she’ll be joining the family for dinner.

“Were you thinking of occupying my chair?” Sue Ellen asks.

“Somebody will if you don’t pull yourself together,” Kristin sneers.

In another fun scene, Patricia, played by the wonderful Martha Scott, stands with Miss Ellie on the Southfork patio, watching over baby John and imagining the bright future that awaits him. “Someday, I expect, he’ll have a great big office, right next to his daddy’s,” Patricia says.

This rather prescient moment, like Crosby and Wynn’s strong first impressions, make up for “The Silent Killer’s” eye-rolling final scene, when Pam refuses to tell Bobby why she suddenly doesn’t want to have children.

The audience knows Pam’s reason – she fears her children will inherit neurofibromatosis, the Barnes family’s newly discovered genetic disease – but it isn’t clear why she insists on keeping Bobby in the dark about it.

Be careful, Pam. Neurofibromatosis may kill children, but secrecy kills marriages – and if you want to save yours, you’ll have to come clean soon.

Grade: B


Dallas, Kristin Shepard, Mary Crosby, Silent Killer

The rascal


Season 3, Episode 3

Airdate: October 5, 1979

Audience: 14.1 million homes, ranking 31st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: When Digger visits, Pam and Cliff learn the Barneses have neurofibromatosis, a rare genetic disease that could be fatal to their children. Pam persuades Cliff to keep this a secret from Sue Ellen, even though he might be baby John’s father. Patricia and Kristin visit and Kristin flirts with J.R.

Cast: William H. Bassett (Dr. Paul Holliston), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Jocelyn Brando (Mrs. Reeves), Mary Crosby (Kristin Shepard), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Georgann Johnson (doctor), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Randolph Powell (Alan Beam), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Martha Scott (Patricia Shepard), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Keenan Wynn (Digger Barnes)

“The Silent Killer” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.


  1. Is this where Pam and Bobby first start keeping big secrets from each other? I so hated that. They seemed like a good couple built on trust and honesty, but then that starts to erode. I can’t recall the specifics, but I remember sometime in the third or fourth season Pam gets really pissed at Bobby for withholding something from her. Then in the fifth season, when he comes clean about his deception surrounding Christopher’s birth, she takes it in stride, as if it’s not unexpected by then. Too bad.

    • Yeah, these two are all over the map. I love the way the show depicts their marriage during the first two seasons. It’s a real partnership of equals. The third season is when things begin to change for them.

  2. Definitely two very significant re-casts here.
    I don’t like Keenan Wynn’s Digger Barnes but I’m just not sure who to blame here. I just can’t picture Digger as anything but the prideful yet broken and bitter man as portrayed by David Wayne. Of course this tradition has been carried on by Kercheval throughout most of his time as Cliff. And when Cliff wasn’t bitter (granted he never broken for any length of time) there was a great reason and well developed reason for it. So who is responsible for this sudden and unexplained about face in the Digger Barnes character? Was that Wynn’s doing? Or was he just playing the part the way he was directed? I should clarify I like the work Wynn does and he does it well. Chris nails it in describing it as charming rougue. So if that was the established character for Digger then yes Wynn is your man. I just see it out of character for Digger.
    Crosby: First we have a bit of a discontiuity here. Camp’s Kristen was going to be an architect. Suddenly Crosby’s Kristen is bumming around Dallas because she couldn’t get the engineering classes she wanted. Anyway… Camp’s Kristen wasn’t really that well established so this casting switch was much easier to take. It was something that had to happen. I for one could never see Camp do what Crosby did with the role. How different would the Dallas mythos be today if Camp continued the role and it was written to here strengths instead of Crosby’s? Boggles the mind to think about it.
    For the record I found Camp more attractive but both women are very attractive so that becomes a matter of quirk of taste.
    But my favorite underated moment of the episode was the introduction of neurofibromatosis. It contributed to (as a suporting detail much like a supporting actor) a nice little story here with Cliff and his belief that John Ross was his. But more than that it was one of those little things that we would hear from again as classic Dallas does (for the most part) what classic Dallas did so well: honor its own continuity. Many years later we’d hear about this again when we learn of Afton’s daughter. Cliff uses it as a tool to investigate that girl’s paternity. I’m a sucker for sutle continuity detail like this which is why I scream so loudly when the new show drops the ball on these kinds of things.

    • Dan, you raise a really interesting point about Colleen Camp. I wonder if Kristin would have been selected as J.R.’s shooter if Camp was still playing the role? Or would J.R. and Kristin’s affair have gone that far in the first place? Interesting stuff to contemplate.

  3. There should not have been the secrecy angle. Pamela should have told Bobby, J. R., & Sue Ellen straight up. DNA testing, if it confirmed that Cliff was the daddy of J. R. The IIIrd, then he could be treated medically right off. Also, Pamela & Bobby could have looked at adopting themselves earlier II make their family whole!

  4. MARYANN says:

    I prefer Mary Crosby’s Kristin, because she is a better actress, more beautiful, sexy and conniving than the original Kristin. I could not imagine the original Kristin pulling off what Mary Crosby’s Kristin did with, JR, Sue Ellen and Allan Beam.

  5. I think from this point the Pamela character started growihg weaker, weaker till ending with mental illness. She was adorable in the first and second seasons with her braveness and sincerity, so contrasting with usual Ewing-style of relations. It seems to me that in the first season she would have been not afraid to tell Bobby; and moreover, she would have found one way or another to let J.R. and Sue Ellen to know. They are parents, and the subject is the life and death of their child, for God’s sake! But now Pamela is choosing to be silent and to keep secrets, very Ewing-like, 😦 Maybe this loss of integrity will gradually destroy her from within.

    • Good points about Pam, Nataly. She’ll have many ups and downs over the course of the series. Some of her best moments come during the eighth season, which I’m currently reviewing. Once you reach those episodes, I think you’ll like Pam a lot!

  6. Blech, this is the initial seed of Pam’s “I can’t have a baby” nonsense. I felt like there was something off about that whole thing. Since Bobby was willing to adopt and it’s not like her and Bobby cared about producing a Real Pureblood Ewing Heir like JR did, it just didn’t make sense anymore for her to be so hung up on it, to the point of descending into near-lunacy.


  1. […] many choices: I love when Patricia Shepard predicts John Ross’s future in “The Silent Killer,” the pep talk Bobby offers a worried Jock in “Ellie Saves the Day” and the “Paternity Suit” […]

  2. […] Sue Ellen seethed. “Somebody will if you don’t pull yourself together,” Kristin sneered. (“The Silent Killer”) Spill […]

  3. […] 7. Joshing J.R. Jock spent a lot of time chewing out J.R. (Larry Hagman), but they had nice moments too. During one cocktail hour, when J.R. joked baby John Ross was becoming a “little fatty,” Jock playfully patted his eldest son’s belly and said, “Just like his daddy.” It was a reminder: Not only was Jock the only Ewing capable of reigning in J.R. – he was also the only one who could get away with razzing him. (“The Silent Killer”) […]

  4. […] “The Silent Killer,” a third-season “Dallas” episode, Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes) and Sue Ellen’s visiting […]

  5. […] then Sue Ellen occupies the opposite end of the motherhood spectrum. In the previous episode, “The Silent Killer,” she refers to baby John as her “punishment” for having an affair with Cliff, although I’m […]

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