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.

Bum.

Bum.

Bum.

“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

‘MOTHER OF THE YEAR’

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 Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  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.

Trackbacks

  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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