Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 39 – ‘Mastectomy, Part 2’

Barbara Bel Geddes, Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, Mastectomy Part 2, Miss Ellie Ewing

Ellie and her rock

In “Mastectomy, Part 1,” Miss Ellie gets breast cancer, probably becoming television’s first major character to have the disease. “Mastectomy, Part 2” is equally provocative, as the health crisis prompts the Ewings to ponder the meaning of beauty.

Who says “Dallas” isn’t deep?

In one of this episode’s best scenes, Sue Ellen and Pam debate attractiveness. When Sue Ellen declares she has “never met a man yet who thought of brains when he first looked at a woman,” her sister-in-law is incredulous. “Women don’t just exist for men,” Pam says.

To some, this scene is probably a little Nixon-goes-to-China. When it aired in 1979, “Dallas” – along with fellow hits “Charlie’s Angels” and “Three’s Company” – routinely touting the sex appeal of its lead actresses. Sue Ellen and Pam’s conversation suggests “Dallas” aspired to be something more, at least during the “Mastectomy” episodes.

The scene also invites us to wonder how the cancer storyline might have been different if Sue Ellen or Pam had been diagnosed with the disease instead of Miss Ellie. My take: It might have been more audacious to assign the disease to a younger character, but it wouldn’t have necessarily been more eye-opening.

Consider the “Mastectomy, Part 2” scene where Ellie, having returned home after her surgery, tries on dresses in her bedroom and decides none fit properly. She collapses in tears and Jock rushes to her side, telling her “it doesn’t matter.”

“Why doesn’t it matter?” Ellie says, sobbing. “Because I’m not young anymore? Don’t you think I care the way I look? Don’t you care?”

I’ll confess: I rarely think of Miss Ellie as a sexual character. The notion that a woman her age might want to be physically appealing to her husband hadn’t occurred to me, so this scene makes me appreciate how bold the “Mastectomy” episodes remain.

Ellie’s breakdown also offers another reminder – not that one is needed – of how good Barbara Bel Geddes and Jim Davis are in their roles. This is a big scene for the actors and they perform well, but they also excel in this episode’s quieter moments.

For example, at the end of “Mastectomy, Part 2,” Jock visits Bobby under the pretense of discussing Southfork business, but the conversation soon turns to Jock’s struggle to reconcile with Ellie. “I just had to have somebody to talk to,” Jock says. Davis delivers the line with such desperation, it’s hard to not be moved.

Ultimately, moments like these make “Mastectomy, Part 2” satisfying. This episode raises questions but doesn’t really answer them – and that’s OK, because the goal seems to be making viewers think for themselves.

Grade: B


Dallas, Linda Gray, Mastectomy Part 2, Pam Ewing, Sue Ellen Ewing, Victoria Principal

Brains and beauty


Season 3, Episode 10

Airdate: November 16, 1979

Audience: 22 million homes, ranking 5th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Arthur Bernard Lewis

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: After her surgery, Miss Ellie struggles to cope with the loss of her breast. Digger urges her to leave Jock for him, but she turns him down and reconciles with Jock.

Cast: 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), Jared Martin (Dusty Farlow), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Keenan Wynn (Digger Barnes), John Zaremba (Dr. Harlan Danvers)

“Mastectomy, Part 2” is available on DVD and and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.


  1. Lloyd Ferrigon says:

    I loved the love that Jock and Ellie have for each other after all these years. These two were wonderful.

  2. I find it interesting that you said you think it is odd that a “woman her age” would worry about her husband being physically attracted to her. Do you realize she was only about 57 at the time this was filmed? Certainly this is a statement on how we view age in 2013 vs 1979 (especially in women). Think about it; Linda Gray is almost 20 years older today than Bel Geddes was in this episode, somehow I think telling Sue Ellen she is past the age of worrying about her looks would be a Dallas sacrilege.
    There is so much to love about this storyline, but I think the fact they chose to highlight not the health aspect as much as the sexual identity one is the most cutting age. Ellie’s sexuality is not put on display the way Pam, Sue Ellen and Lucy’s always is, which is what makes it a more daring storyline. You are seeing a very intimate side of a beloved character and that makes her seem all the more real. And it also sheds a lot of light into the private side of Jock and Ellie’s marriage.

    • Missiea5, you make terrific points about how our perception of “older women” has changed during the past 35 years. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and hope to write more on the topic soon. Thanks for your feedback.

      • what happened c.b. r u erasing me from comments?

      • No sir! Not sure what’s happening but I’ll look into it.

      • I would so enjoy reading your thoughts on that! A fellow Dallas fan friend and I were speculating how you rarely saw Ellie and either Jock or Clayton in bed together because age yet now so many women are in their ’50’s and still very sexualized we were wondering how that would play into the new Dallas. Sue Ellen is still willing to flirt so they are at least acknowledging that she is still a woman.

        This storyline was daring for it’s time and is still amazing to watch all these years later!

    • Dan in WI says:

      While Bel Geddes may have been 57 at the time (and one has to admit she never looked young for her age on the show’s run) the character of Miss Ellie was 64 at this point. (Miss Ellie seems to have been born in 1915 from what I can find.) So I have no problem with Chris saying a woman of her age. Chris says he never thought of her of a sexual being and I’m guessing few ever have. That was just the nature of the character.

  3. R.J. Koopmans, President, Ewing Oil Co. Ltd.-Canada says:

    Miss Texas partly thought of herself as a sex object b/c she was the fish that landed the great J.R. Ewing, son of Jock & Ellie & heir to the Ewing Oil fortune. So of course she wouldn’t be as liberated as Pam b/c she always had the upbringing through her monther, Mrs. Sheppard to lock her claws onto a well to do man & stand by his side in a secondary role, just as she had. She taught this to Sue Ellen & Kristin. All the Sheppard daughters are doing is play acting to their mama’s will.


  1. […] but the actress also shows us her character’s vulnerable side in “Mastectomy, Part 1” and “Mastectomy, Part 2,” the episodes that won Bel Geddes an Emmy. She earned the award, but I can’t help but think how […]

  2. […] 1. Loving Ellie. Few things move me more than the way Jock stood by Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes) when she had her mastectomy. While Ellie struggled to deal with the loss of her breast, Jock never left her side, offering her the support and comfort she needed. Jock may have been a rich oil baron and a stern father, but above all, he was a devoted husband and Ellie’s best friend. The way he loved her made us love him. Ellie never stopped missing him. Neither have we. (“Mastectomy, Part 2”) […]

  3. […] “Mastectomy, Part 2,” a third-season “Dallas” episode, Jock (Jim Davis) enters his bedroom to find Miss Ellie […]

  4. […] history. “Eye of the Beholder” arrived four seasons after the show’s classic “Mastectomy” episodes, which broke ground by making Ellie one of the first major characters in prime time to get cancer. […]

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