Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 46 – ‘Paternity Suit’

Dallas, John Ross Ewing, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Paternity Suite, Tyler Banks

Father and son, at last

“Dallas” creator David Jacobs has called the final scene in “Paternity Suit” – when J.R. picks up his son for the first time – his favorite moment during the series. I understand why. Nothing humanizes J.R., Jacobs’ most famous creation, quite like this.

In the scene, J.R. – clad in a tuxedo because he’s on his way to one of Miss Ellie’s charity dinners – enters the Southfork nursery moments after receiving the blood-test results that prove he is, indeed, the father of newborn John Ross Ewing III. J.R. picks up the child, holds him close and kisses him. No dialogue is spoken, and none is needed. The expression on Larry Hagman’s face – pride, relief, love – says it all.

This is one of several stellar scenes in another standout episode from “Dallas’s” third season. I also love when Miss Ellie refuses to act embarrassed when she and Lucy run into phony-baloney society matrons Marilee Stone and Linda Bradley while shopping. Barbara Bel Geddes is wonderful here, but so is Joan Lancaster. Each actress gets a great line at the end of the scene. Linda whispers to Marilee (“Honey, the Ewings have nerves of steel.”), while Miss Ellie imparts a little family wisdom to Lucy (“No one’s ever made a Ewing back down yet. I doubt if they ever will.”). Perfect.

I also get a kick out of the whole Southfork cocktail party sequence, which makes me appreciate the number of semi-regular characters – Harv Smithfield, Jordan Lee, the Stones, the Bradleys – the show has introduced in just two-and-a-half seasons. “Dallas” really does feel like its own little world now, doesn’t it?

Of course, not everything in “Paternity Suit” rings true: Cliff’s withdrawal from the congressional race feels a bit rushed, and the Dallas Press’s splashy headline (“BARNES CLAIMS EWING CHILD HIS”) is typically over-the-top, but these quirks are really part of “Paternity Suit’s” charm.

Similarly, Jock spends a lot of time in this episode huffing and puffing about Cliff’s lawsuit. Some might find the Ewing patriarch’s incredulousness annoying, but to me, his behavior is rather sweet. It’s as if the old man is incapable of fathoming the idea of Sue Ellen cheating on J.R.

Jock’s faith in his daughter-in-law’s virtue is misplaced, but it exists – and in the Ewing family, that’s saying something.

Grade: A


Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Paternity Suit, Sue Ellen Ewing

Facing the truth


Season 3, Episode 17

Airdate: January 11, 1980

Audience: 21.9 million homes, ranking 2nd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Loraine Despres

Director: Harry Harris

Synopsis: After Cliff’s financing dries up and he quits his congressional race, he realizes J.R. set him up and seeks revenge by publicly claiming he is baby John’s father. A blood test proves the father is J.R., who finally embraces the child.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Mary Crosby (Kristin Shepard), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Martina Deignan (Deborah Johns), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Fern Fitzgerald (Marilee Stone), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Stanley Grover (Dr. Miles), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Stephen Keep (Barry Lester), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Joan Lancaster (Linda Bradley), Jared Martin (Dusty Farlow), George O. Petrie (Harv Smithfield), Randolph Powell (Alan Beam), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Paul Sorensen (Andy Bradley), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Keenan Wynn (Digger Barnes)

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


  1. I agree this was a standout episode. Those few moments where they humanize J.R. are always powerful. It’s what keeps him from being a vilain, which I didn’t understand until I started watching the show. I remember having the impression that he was the villain, but you didn’t really agree and now I can see why.

  2. Destinee says:

    Well, no surprise that this is one of my favorite episodes! What drives me insane reading comments on Dallas Fanzine’s posts is people who think J.R. switched out the results to make everyone believe John Ross was his. Why would he then pick him up in the nursery for the first time? He would have kept ignoring him. Ugh, people!

    What I would have liked to see, of course, is then a subsequent (even for a few seconds) moment between Sue Ellen and J.R. They never discussed it! Granted he became somewhat obsessed with her again right after, but they could have at least had a look pass between them.

    I was surprised too, at Jock’s naivety. But later when he came back as Wes Parmalee, he told Sue Ellen that he knew J.R. wouldn’t accept JRIII until he knew he was his. ???

    • You’re so right, Destinee. After all that drama, we never get a scene between J.R. and Sue Ellen. A brief glance could have been really powerful.

      As always, thanks for commenting. I always look forward to your feedback.


    • WHATWHATWHAT??? Wes Parmelee was NOT Jock Ewing, but an awful crooker !

  3. Ian Delaney says:

    This episode effectively concluded what had been a long standing mystery – the paternity of Sue Ellen’s baby. Up to this point Cliff had laboured under the illusion that he was the father of the child without actually possessing sold proof. Likewise J.R. also had his doubts which may account for his distance towards the child.

    What was most remarkable though about “Paternity Suit” was the way in which it highlighted the social hypocrisy and denial of the Ewing family, in particular its senior members. Both Jock and Miss Ellie could not understand why Cliff had alleged to a newspaper that he was the true father, and equally flabbergasted that he should order a blood test to prove the matter once and for all. Now, anyone with a modicum of common sense would see the elephant in the living room here. If another man claims to be the father of married woman’s baby what is that saying? It can only imply one thing: that an extra marital affair had taken place. Why could they not recognise the obvious beggars belief!

    • It makes sense though, for Cliff and JR both to assume it was Cliff’s baby. She and JR had been married for 9 years without managing to conceive, then she sleeps with Cliff for 6 weeks and becomes pregnant. It was pretty unlikely for it to be JR’s.
      As for Ellie and Jock not suspecting Sue Ellen, that’s believable too. Cliff claiming to be the father doesn’t imply that he actually could be… he could be just trying to stir up trouble and make headlines. And all these years Sue Ellen had been the perfect quiet wife, they had no reason to suspect that she had been unfaithful. I do agree that once he demanded a blood test, that’s the time to start getting suspicious. But Ellie and Jock really liked Sue Ellen and thought of her as family, and you know how the Ewings stick together.

  4. You know what is wild. Joan Lancaster lives in the assisted living facility that I work for! She has some really cool pics of herself when she was young as an actress! really outstanding lady.. class act all the way..

  5. Despite Dallas being a great series, it did have its weak spots and I regret to say that “Paternity Suit” ranks as one of the worst episodes.

    The storyline was certainly loaded with suspense where the question of John Ross’s true paternity is dragged out almost towards the end, and highlighted the existing tensions between Sue Ellen and J.R. But it was undermined by how the characters were portrayed and I wonder if some of them needed a reality check.

    The first example of this shows up in Jock and Miss Ellie being perplexed as to why Cliff would have the audacity to claim paternity of Sue Ellen’s baby, and then go on to demand blood tests. Do they not see the elephant in the living room or do they think that babies are delivered by storks?

    The second weakest link concerns Cliff’s realisation that the rug has been pulled from underneath him with his bid to run for Congress. He eventually clicks that J.R. had been suppling the money all along to finance his political campaign, but refutes the suggestion that Alan Beam had a hand in money laundering. Since Beam was the one showering oodles of cash it would surely have been a logical enough assumption that he was a front man for J.R. And this begs the question. If you are running for office and someone turns up with loads of money, do you not demand to know exactly where it has all come from. Cliff not being the brightest star in the sky obviously never bothered to check!


  1. […] for alcoholism; arrested for J.R.’s shooting; and embroiled in a series of ugly paternity suits, divorces and custody battles. Also, a drunken Sue Ellen was behind the wheel when Walt Driscoll […]

  2. […] Silent Killer,” the pep talk Bobby offers a worried Jock in “Ellie Saves the Day” and the “Paternity Suit” sequence where J.R. picks up his infant son for the first time. There’s also Miss Ellie’s […]

  3. […] impossible to watch this scene and not be reminded of the third-season episode “Paternity Suit,” when J.R. walks into the nursery and picks up John Ross for the first time. As joyous as that […]

  4. […] 3. Welcome to fatherhood. For months after John Ross’s birth, J.R. all but ignored the child because he secretly suspected Cliff is the father. Cliff thought the same thing and eventually filed a lawsuit to gain custody, prompting him and J.R. to take blood tests to determine the child’s paternity once and for all. On the night of one of Miss Ellie’s charity dinners, the results come in and prove J.R. is, in fact, the father. Armed with this knowledge, our tuxedo-clad hero enters the Southfork nursery, picks up his son, holds him close and kisses him. No dialogue is spoken. None is needed. The look on Hagman’s face – pride, relief, joy – says it all. (“Paternity Suit”) […]

  5. […] a clever touch, “Dallas” underlines J.R.’s favoritism by evoking the third-season classic “Paternity Suit.” In that episode, J.R. receives the blood test results that prove he’s John Ross’s father and […]

  6. […] J.R. becomes a daddy. When the Ewings learn the results of the paternity test that proves J.R., not Cliff, fathered John Ross, J.R. enters the Southfork nursery, picks up his […]

  7. […] Perhaps it will reveal John Ross (Josh Henderson) really is Cliff’s son after all. J.R. faked the paternity test all those years ago to spare his family – and himself – a lot of embarrassment and raised John […]

  8. […] J.R.? That seems like a lot for the audience to swallow. Don’t forget: This is the man who once sued J.R. and Sue Ellen for custody of John Ross, claiming he was the child’s biological […]

  9. […] appears to be Jordan’s wife. He introduces her as Evelyn, although in the third-season episode “Paternity Suit,” Jordan seemed to refer to his spouse as “Sara.” Is this a continuity error, or are they two […]

  10. […] “Paternity Suit,” a third-season “Dallas” episode, Miss Ellie and Lucy (Barbara Bel Geddes, Charlene Tilton) are […]

  11. […] affair with Cliff (Ken Kercheval), Pam’s vengeful brother. Later, J.R. and Sue Ellen have a son, John Ross, while Bobby and Pam adopt Christopher, the orphaned child of Sue Ellen’s sister Kristin Shepard […]

  12. […] Ellen when she went missing after J.R.’s shooting, but he also rushed to her defense when Cliff claimed he was John Ross’s father. Jock was friends with Donna before she got together with Ray, but when […]

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