Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 33 – ‘Secrets’

Dallas, Joan Van Ark, Secrets, Valene Ewing

Runaway mama

“Secrets” is about the perils of motherhood. In this episode, Sue Ellen remains aloof toward her newborn son, Valene struggles to reconcile with Lucy, and Pam agonizes over her pregnancy. Poor Miss Ellie is left to fret over them all.

If the eternally wise and loving Ellie is “Dallas’s” ideal mama, 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 not sure this is how she really feels.

Consider the “Secrets” scene where Sue Ellen gazes at the baby in his crib. She looks more intimidated than resentful. Maybe Sue Ellen, after being hurt by both J.R. and Cliff, is simply afraid to let down her guard?

Val is also estranged from her child, although she spends “Secrets” trying to patch things up with Lucy. To its credit, “Dallas” doesn’t gloss over Val’s mistakes. When Val says she, Gary and Lucy “never had a chance” to be a family, Lucy quickly corrects her. “We had a chance, all right,” Lucy says. “We were all together at the ranch. We could’ve made it, except it got too rough for you two, so you both ran off.”

Lucy’s decision to forgive Val at the end of “Secrets” is a little pat, although Joan Van Ark is so good in the scene where Val stands up to J.R., I’m willing to overlook the tidiness of the resolution.

Pam’s story is less satisfying. In “The Silent Killer,” she discovers her family suffers from a genetic disease that could be fatal to children and decides she doesn’t want to risk having a baby, only to learn she’s already pregnant in “Secrets.”

Pam turns to Cliff for advice. She lets him know she’s considering terminating the pregnancy without telling Bobby, continuing her pattern of keeping secrets from her husband.

I’m sure “Dallas” wants us to feel sorry for Pam, and I suppose I do, but this twist makes me think maybe it’s best if she doesn’t become a mother. After all, she’s turning out to be a lousy wife.

Grade: B


Dallas, Pam Ewing, Secrets, Victoria Principal

Maybe baby?


Season 3, Episode 4

Airdate: October 12, 1979

Audience: 16.2 million homes, ranking 15th in the weekly ratings

Writer and Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Val returns but Lucy rejects her attempt to reconcile. J.R. pressures Val into leaving, but she stands up to him, making Lucy proud. Pam discovers she’s pregnant and, fearing the child might die of neurofibromatosis, contemplates an abortion.

Cast: William H. Bassett (Dr. Paul Holliston), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Jocelyn Brando (Mrs. Reeves), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Meg Gallagher (Louella), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Jeanna Michaels (Connie), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Randolph Powell (Alan Beam), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Joan Van Ark (Valene Ewing)

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


  1. David Warczak says:

    So glad you included this episode. Upon re-watching the series this winter, I was really impressed with this episode. Joan Van Ark does some excellent work here as Valene, and I really enjoyed the confrontation between her and Lucy when she calls-out Valene for walking out on her. I’d forgotten that scene, and it’s important in the overall run of the show. After these few early episode addressing Lucy’ upbringing, you don’t hear much about it later on. And this scene feels real, like a teen daughter might actually do to her absentee mother.

    Like you said though, her forgiving Valene by episode’s end feels too pat, but I assume that was due partially to production constrictions of having Valene on the show (as a guest star), and also it being before Dallas shifted into full-on serialized story lines. It’s still half in episodic drama mode here, with stories that wrap each week.

    And I totally agree about Pam’s odd secretive behavior here. It’s weird. It’s when she starts to get all soft & “baby crazy” for a while. Luckily, she comes out of most of that later.

    Great stuff!

    • One of the things I’ve discovered upon revisiting “Dallas” is how good Joan Van Ark is. I really love her performances on the show. I love your expression: “baby crazy.” That describes Pam pretty well at this point during the series. Thanks for the comment!

  2. think? think> haha! this show was back in 1978 or so

  3. I wasn’t very impressed by the Valene character until this episode. I do love her scene with J.R.

    • Valene is great. Joan Van Ark and Larry Hagman have great chemistry together. It isn’t romantic or sexual, of course. As actors, they just play really well off each other. I wish they had interacted more frequently over the course of “Dallas” and “Knots Landing.”

  4. An abortion for Pamela would have been stupid C. B. Neurofibromatosis or not, that child would have had the best in medical care while it was alive if it had it. And if it didn’t then so much the better 4 Bobby & Pam.

  5. MARYANN says:

    I think this is where the writers start to fail Pam as the once strong and confident character we know in the beginning. Are we suppose to believe that that Pam would have considered abortion or keeping this genetic disease a secret from Bobby for long? Also why did the writers not want Pam to have a baby naturally after she found out Digger was not her biological father which meant she did not have the disease or could pass it on then why come up with the not being able to carry a baby full term, this did not make sense to me!!!!!

    • Maryann, I agree. I like how you approached this: The writers failed Pam. That’s an excellent (and accurate) way of looking at what happened to the character.

  6. I love how JR just happened to be in the stands watching the SMU cheerleading practice!

  7. Ian Delaney says:

    This episode seems to bring a positive resolution to the plot surrounding Lucy and the fraught relationship with her parents. Thinking back on the beginning of Season 2 where Gary comes back to the ranch and temporarily gets back together with Valene, it is not difficult to see why things didn’t work out given JR’s devious machinations. It was really good to see Valene stand up to JR and not be intimidated.

  8. “Maybe Sue Ellen, after being hurt by both J.R. and Cliff, is simply afraid to let down her guard” And once she starts going to Dr. Ellbee and gets to a point where she can open up to him, she realizes that this was indeed the case.


  1. […] had some of my friends check out some of the cheaper motels.” – J.R.’s greeting to Valene in “Secrets.” I could watch Hagman and Joan Van Ark go at it all […]

  2. […] Val could always count on him. When she was estranged from Lucy, who arranged a mother/daughter reconciliation? Bobby, of course. He also reunited Val and Gary, discovered the house on Seaview Circle that […]

  3. […] “Secrets,” a third-season “Dallas” episode, Valene (Joan Van Ark) answers a knock on her motel room door. […]

  4. […] At this point during the show’s run, the producers can’t decide who they want Lucy to be. Sometimes, she is a troublemaking teenager who blackmails Pam (“Lessons”) and runs away from home (“Runaway”). At other times, she is a sweet young woman who deals gracefully with a broken engagement (“Royal Marriage”) and struggles to forgive her deadbeat mama (“Secrets”). […]

  5. […] the 1979 episode “Secrets,” Valene goes to Lucy’s college campus and approaches her daughter, one year after J.R. forced Val […]

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