Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 42 – ‘Mother of the Year’

Dallas, Linda Gray, Mother of the Year, Sue Ellen Ewing

Prodigal mother

Larry Hagman directed “Mother of the Year,” and despite his limited experience behind the camera (Hagman’s most notable pre-“Dallas” directing credit: “Beware! The Blob”), he makes this episode the third season’s most inventive entry.

Consider the moment J.R. learns he’s struck oil in the Pacific. Hagman opens the scene with J.R. staring at his office telephone, awaiting news from Hank Johnson, his man in Asia, while Kristin massages his shoulders.

The phone rings. Kristin answers.

“It’s the Associated Press,” she announces. “They want to know something about an oil well.”

J.R. takes the receiver, tenses his shoulders, rises from his chair.

“What? Well, now, I, I haven’t got a confirmation on that yet,” he stammers.

Another line buzzes. Kristin answers. It’s Hank.

J.R. puts the AP on hold, takes Hank’s call.

“Where the hell have you been?” he demands.

In the background: A drumbeat begins building – slow, steady.




“What?” J.R. asks Hank. “Yee-ha! We hit!”

Folksy strings join the drums as J.R. switches back to the other line.

“Yes, that’s a confirmation,” he says. “Absolutely. A strike in the Pacific – maybe the biggest one ever yet! Yeah, you can quote me. J.R. Ewing!”

The scene is clever because Hagman constructs it like an oil strike: The news about J.R.’s “hit” trickles in over the phone lines – slow but steady – before finally producing his joyful rupture.

I also appreciate Hagman’s attention to detail. He is an honest-to-goodness Texan and has a good ear for how these people talk – or at least how we expect them to.

Before Sue Ellen arrives for the Daughters of the Alamo luncheon, Hagman allows us to eavesdrop as the socialites gossip around the buffet table (“I can hardly believe what she was wearing to that formal dinner party!”).

Hagman also proves to be generous with his fellow cast mates. Barbara Bel Geddes, Jim Davis, Ken Kercheval and Victoria Principal all have nice scenes here, although “Mother of the Year” is mostly a showcase for Linda Gray.

Sue Ellen gets two – count ’em, two! – scenes with Dr. Elby, and when she finally picks up baby John at the end of the episode, it’s a powerful moment.

By the time the closing credits roll, there’s no doubt: Sue Ellen might be “Dallas’s” mother of the year, but director-of-the year honors go to Larry Hagman.

Grade: A


Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Mother of the Year, Larry Hagman,

Someday his wells will come in


Season 3, Episode 13

Airdate: December 14, 1979

Audience: 19.6 million homes, ranking 7th in the weekly ratings

Writer: Rena Down

Director: Larry Hagman

Synopsis: To prevent Ewing Oil from having to drill on Southfork, Jock decides to sell the Asian leases. Before the sale, the company hits a gusher. J.R. stops funding Cliff’s campaign. After fighting with Cliff, Sue Ellen shows interest in her baby, leaving Pam feeling as if she has “lost” another child.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Jocelyn Brando (Mrs. Reeves), Jeff Cooper (Dr. Simon Elby), Mary Crosby (Kristin Shepard), 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), Joan Lancaster (Linda Bradley), Jeanna Michaels (Connie), Dennis Patrick (Vaughn Leland), Randolph Powell (Alan Beam), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

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


  1. I remember that scene where they find out they struck oil. It is really great. A genuinely triumphant moment, even if it is a triumph for J.R. Dr. Elby gets on my nerves. He has glazed over look. Isn’t he supposed to have a reputation as a real head-turner? More like a zombie.

    • That scene is one of my all-time favorites. (I know I say that a lot on this blog, but what can I say? I have a lot of favorite “Dallas” scenes!)

  2. That scene has nice music too.

  3. So Miss Ellie & the family got bitch slapped down by J.R. in the end as the oil leases hit bin the Pacific! And J.R., Hank, & the whole of the Ewing Oil Co. Ltd. made a bucket of cash! I love it! The mortgage deal of Southfork was beyond dirty, but J.R. was 100% right II do it!

  4. Maryann says:

    This episode was great, JR was so lucky the South Asian Oil deal struck, if it didn’t Jock would have took him down as head of Ewing Oil ( although I hate when JR wins). The scene with Sue Ellen and Cliff in his apartment was good, I think they both used each other and both were nasty to each other so as this point I do not route for either one. I am glad that Sue Ellen finally came out of her anger and pain at the end to be able to touch and be a mother to John Ross and she has Cliff to thank for that due to what he said to her which was a jolt. I am just sad that Pam got hurt although her avid attention to John Ross was not really healthy at least he got some love and care which he was not getting from his real parents. I think despite Sue Ellen’s problem with alcohol she was a better parent to John Ross than JR ever was.

  5. I should confess Sue Ellen character annoys me. Yes, she was unhappy for years, and J.R. treated her indecently, but… you see, there are two types of people: that who are solving their problem, and that who are clinging to it, making it a big deal and turn it in a queachy hopeless swamp. And Sue Ellen is definitely the second type. I think that the position of “poor woman, mentally unstable and vulnerable” has an advantage for her. What Cliff says is partly true: money of her husband, kindness and delicacy of other Ewings, courtship of Dusty – all these are resourses for her, and she uses all of them without any thought about repaying.
    And her attitude to baby John is quite disgusting, sorry. This is a tiny boy, small and helpless, not guilty in anything, and badly in need for maternal care for his well-being – but all this is not important for her, only her own emotions, troubles and sorrows are important. So egocentric. 😦
    It is something… instructive. Sometimes I tend to self-pitying, drooping and making the big deal out of small wrongs; but now I’m looking at Sue Ellen and tell myself: “Never-never again!” 🙂
    (Hope it isn’t insulting for the fans who love Sue Ellen.)

    • No need to apologize, Nataly. All opinions are welcome here! Your opinion of Sue Ellen might change as you continue watching the series. She evolves and grows as a character over time.

    • At this point in Sue Ellen’s life, I have to respectfully disagree with Nataly. In order to take charge of your own life and solve your problems, it takes a lot of emotional resources that Sue Ellen has little-to-none of right now. Self-respect, motivation, independence, a belief in your own capability. She has been taught from an early age to be dependent on someone else. Throughout the run of the show, we see her learning how to be independent, and it’s a long road and there are big stumbles along the way.
      The fact that she actually started seeing a therapist was a huge step for her, and at this point in the show she has already taken it. Think about how hard it would be for someone like her to realize she needs therapy, actually make an appointment, actually go, actually keep going. And she KNOWS she needs to learn how to be a good mother to John Ross. She even says to Dr. Ellbee the same things you are saying, that he’s just a little baby and he needs her, but she’s afraid. The pain she’s been dealt has given her a psychological fear of becoming emotionally close to anyone, logically she knows her own baby won’t hurt her but “logically” isn’t enough to make that fear go away, she has to work through it, and by seeing her therapist that’s what she’s doing.

  6. All the comments on here championing the struck oil moment miss out on the real texture and feel of this episode . Guess a lot of reviewers are confusing Hagman the artist with the iconic global sensation he portrayed . What strikes me about this episode compared to the preceding ones is this is the first time we get to see JR and Sue Ellen share a human and nuanced few moments together , as Sue Ellen asks JR if she changed , for the first time there are no claws drawn and unleashed between them just some minutes of melancholic honesty . Most of what made JR and Sue Ellen one of the most famous couples in soap was the constant sparring and seeing which one of them came out on top in that particular scene . MOTY shifts into a more neutral gear and diverts from the entertainment angle into a more humane and sometimes comic texture .
    JR wins the day and it would have been easy to have made the plot and characters fould into that and applaud his heroics as a lesser show might but actually his ultimate victory is depicted in a shabby down beat manner exemplified by the moment he opens that bottle of champagne and all the fizz is gone . This is the first time JR is depicted as a vulnerable adult and not the intense constantly victorious alpha male of previous episodes . The family have just become billionaires , Bobby and Pam both salivate about spending the family s new found wealth , Jock is ecstatic Ellie gets out the caviar and Lucy preens herself for the photographers , But the minute JR walks through the door non can bring themselves to at least give credit where credits due . By the episodes end and owing to their damming of their fellow Ewing JR you feel more sympathy with the eldest Ewing heir then the rest of the Ewing family we’ve been led to believe are far batter and fairer then JR. By the episodes end ,
    Also the first time we see JR going on a redemptive bender Given what know about Hagmans appetite for booze I’m sure that was not a tough piece of method acting . Humour , sadness , regret and humanity seem to scar this episode in a effective way . As viewers we will probably never know whether this was at Hagmans behest or the show runners themselves were keen to take the show in a more mature direction to balance out the characteristic moments of bravado and bluster .
    JR , Sue Ellen , Cliff and Pam all are served well here and deviate from their default character stereotypes well .
    I’m aware Hagman directed many Dallas episodes over the years and I cant remember any more of them as I’m re watching the show in order from scratch . But I would say this is one of the best episodes rewarding for experienced viewers o subdued for fifty minutes and we get taken into the characters tears and turmoils in a meaningful way tha’m sure as it was Hagman directed episode the booze for lunch scene was method acting t fits more with Knots Landing then the bold and attacking melodramaticsf the series , Drums home despite Hagman during his life time celebrating the OTT aspects of Dallas and JR he seemed to know that the quitter moments of doubt , sadness and vulnerability were the vital fuel to keep the show burning bright .

  7. One of the first episodes I remember being annoyed by Ray in the way he is portrayed as a know it all. He starts to question the architect on the blueprints for his house. Going forward this type of stuff happpens a lot with him. Barking orders at cops and so forth.


  1. […] my favorite scene is the “Mother of the Year” sequence that mimics the rhythms of an oil strike. J.R. sits in his office, staring at his […]

  2. […] 9. Strike! J.R. is down because he hasn’t hit a gusher in Southeast Asia. The phone rings. “It’s the Associated Press,” Kristin announces. “They want to know something about an oil well.” Line 2 buzzes. This call is from Hank, J.R.’s man in the Orient. “Where the hell have you been?” J.R. demands as he takes the receiver. In the background: A drumbeat builds. Slow, steady. Bum. Bum. Bum. Finally, J.R. exclaims, “Yee-ha! We hit!” This scene is brilliant because it mimics a gusher: The news about J.R.’s strike trickles in before his joyful rupture. Hagman directed the sequence, proving he was just as clever behind the camera as he was in front of it. (“Mother of the Year”) […]

  3. […] are particularly attuned to this sort of thing: When Hagman directed the third-season episode “Mother of the Year,” he showed Lucy sliding down the Southfork bannister — the first time we see someone descend those […]

  4. […] shrink Dr. Elby, Sue Ellen finally realizes how much “little John” needs her, so she goes home, picks up the boy and holds him for only the second time since his birth, 13 (!) episodes earlier. It’s a powerful […]

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