Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 48 – ‘Sue Ellen’s Choice’

Dallas, Dusty Farlow, Jared Martin, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, Sue Ellen's Choice

Choose, but either way you lose

In “Sue Ellen’s Choice,” our heroine wrestles with two options: She can leave J.R. for Dusty and lose custody of her son, or she can stay married and keep the baby. If other possibilities exist, “Dallas” doesn’t present them.

Sue Ellen ultimately chooses to stick with J.R., and I suppose we should admire her for sacrificing her romantic interests so she can remain a full-time mother to little John. Maybe Sue Ellen really loves Dusty as much as she claims, but she loves her son more, and that’s how it should be.

Besides, I’m not sure Dusty is right for Sue Ellen. I loved his introduction in “Rodeo,” an earlier third-season episode, but if there’s a good reason for his unquestioning devotion to her, “Dallas” hasn’t offered it. I find myself wondering: Does Dusty care for Sue Ellen as much as he claims, or does he want to take her and little John away from the Ewings to prove he’s more powerful than J.R.?

As for J.R., I’ll confess to feeling sorry for him when he enters the nursery in “Sue Ellen’s Choice” and tries to tell his wife about his day, only to have her dismiss him. After all the rotten things he’s done, I know I shouldn’t be willing to cut J.R. any slack, but I can’t help it. Deep down, J.R. loves Sue Ellen. How else to explain his envy in “Jenna’s Return,” when he begins to suspect Sue Ellen is having an affair?

Speaking of Jenna: Her two-part “return” comes to a rather unsatisfying conclusion in this episode. There’s a cool scene where Jenna confronts Pam and tells her she’ll take Bobby if Pam no longer wants him, but by the end of the hour, Jenna has disappeared.

Like Sue Ellen, I suppose Jenna makes a big decision, too – and her choice is to leave.

Grade: B


Dallas, Francine Tacker, Jenna Wade, Sue Ellen's Choice

Hello, I must be leaving


Season 3, Episode 19

Airdate: February 1, 1980

Audience: 21.8 million homes, ranking 3rd in the weekly ratings

Writer: Camille Marchetta

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Sue Ellen agrees to leave J.R. for Dusty, but when J.R. threatens to take their son from her, she decides to stay. After Bobby rejects Jenna’s advances, he and Pam agree to give their marriage one more chance. Donna asks Jock to talk to Ray, but when he declines, she tells Ray goodbye. Alan gives Lucy an engagement ring.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Mary Crosby (Kristin Shepard), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Culver), Steve Kanaly (Ray Krebbs), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Jared Martin (Dusty Farlow), Jeanna Michaels (Connie), Randolph Powell (Alan Beam), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Francine Tacker (Jenna Wade), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

“Sue Ellen’s Choice” is available on DVD and at and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.


  1. Destinee says:

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this episode. Thank you for saying JR loves Sue Ellen, because I really think they portrayed him as loving her but not knowing how to truly show it. Take for instance the scene where Sue Ellen runs out of the house with her shag carpet coat and Pam tries to stop her. JR comes up from behind and refuses to stop her, but the look on his face is something akin to pain. Then he goes upstairs and picks John Ross up out of his crib and holds him close with another pained expression, as though he was worried Sue Ellen wasn’t going to come back. If he didn’t love her, he would be glad to see her go and leave the baby with him. And then of course he hides his feelings behind his scathing “I knew you’d never have the guts to go” statement when she came back in tears.

    • Good insights! I think you’re right: J.R. loves Sue Ellen but struggles to express it, although at this point during the third season, I’m not sure even he understands his true feelings.

      What do you think of Dusty? I generally like him and believe he cares about Sue Ellen, but in this episode, it seems like he sees her more as a prize than a person.

      Thanks for commenting! I really appreciate it.

    • I think that JR loved Sue Ellen “in his own way” but that way is not good enough. He was emotionally abusive, he lies, he cheats. And yes he might get all misty-eyed when she walks out or when she’s in a coma or something, but then when he has her, he treats her like garbage. Is that love? As Sue Ellen herself figured out, what JR loves is the chase. He’s interested in Sue Ellen when he doesn’t have her. And once John Ross was born, having Sue Ellen meant having John Ross living at Southfork. And some of the things he’s done to Sue Ellen over the years (right now I’m thinking of when he made it look like she was drinking again when she really wasn’t, in order to force her into a sanitarium) are just unforgivable and not what you do to someone you love.

  2. Destinee says:

    I go back and forth on Dusty because he was just as selfish as JR, but I do think he loved Sue Ellen. When he came back in S8 (9 DVD) and he really wanted to be with her, she turned him away because she felt he was in love with the old Sue Ellen? Stupid! Obviously as a JR/SE fan, it worked out for me for the best, but she didn’t give him enough of a chance. Dusty started to be insanely jealous and suspicious not long after she moved to the Southern Cross, which was after JR owned him on that football field!

    A lot of people who criticize JR and SE tend to glance over small scenes that really show what the characters were feeling, especially JR. I just adore Larry Hagman and he really made JR into one of the most complex characters on TV. One of the more telling scenes for me was after JR was shot and Sue Ellen was fawning over him in the hospital. He asked her if she was doing this to get John Ross away from him, she said no and kissed him. He reached up for her hand, not the other way around. He always forgave her and was willing to take her back as soon as she made the move on him.

    • Yes! I love J.R. and Sue Ellen’s scenes in that episode. I know Sue Ellen is wracked with guilt because she suspects (or fears) she shot him, but J.R. doesn’t know that. He’s very vulnerable during those moments — he’s come face to face with his own mortality — and he reaches out to her. It’s really touching. And you’re so right: To really understand their relationship, you have to pay attention to the details. The small moments matter most. Thanks again for commenting!

  3. Destinee says:

    I know it’s just a show, but their relationship is sooo frustrating! Especially that first season. I’ll have to look through your other reviews of that season, but I kind of hated the finality of the serialized episodes. JR finds outs that the baby might not be his in Act of Love and then doesn’t mention it again until For Love or Money. Then Sue Ellen comes back in the next episode and their relationship is the same as before. Then Julie Grey arrives… what do you think would have happened had she not died? I like to speculate that she would have been insanely jealous of JR’s new “family” and it would have brought an interesting dynamic. Does JR stay devoted to his wife or does he still keep up his Julie fling?

    • Ooh, good question. I like the way you think! My two cents: If Julie hadn’t died, she probably would have done herself in. She seemed destined to meet a tragic end, whether it was at her own hand or someone else’s. I really like the Julie character and Tina Louise’s performance. I think it would have been cool to see Sue Ellen and Julie come face to face at some point.

  4. I don’t buy that JR loves SE. No man that loved a woman would emotionally abuse her like he does. I do believe he is hurt and wants her to choose him but he does not want what is best for her. He cares nothing for what she is truly feeling or what might actually make her happy.

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

    Evenutually Miss Texas will garner the strength to come out of her shell & leave J.R. But she will come back II him, especially at his funeral with her glorious tribute!

  6. Sue Ellen really has three options as opposed to two here. The third not mentioned by our site master is rolling the dice on a messy public divorce. In 1980 America I’d have to guess that despite all JR’s pull even he’d struggle to find an appeal-proof court that wouldn’t side with the mother when it comes to custody. That said the divorce will be messy and Sue Ellen’s name would go through the mud. Personally I believe that at this stage Sue Ellen is way to fragile to get through an ugly battle like that without a relapse to alcoholism. So a fight is an option but necessarily a good one.

    Personally I believe that Dusty’s love (as strangly unconditional is it is) is genuine and not an ego driven power contest with JR. After all he’s been presented to us as person who’s largely foresaken his family wealth and power prior to meeting Sue Ellen. Now is he right for her? I’d say no. He hasn’t dealt with the alcoholic Sue Ellen yet but when he eventually does he’ll proove to be an unwitting enabler and that sure isn’t good for an alcoholic.

    But I have no pity for JR here. I see him in this episode as being nothing but evil with a brief non-sequitor moment of sharing his day with Sue Ellen. To me that was no attempt to make nice and simply small talk and nothing but small talk. We see him threatening Sue Ellen in the most (emotionally) brutal maner possible, taunting Bobby (whom we are also always told he loves) when his plan to get him away from Pam shows progress and gloating when he learns he has come between Ray and Donna. I feel no sympathy from him here. I also don’t think he was bluffing when he told Sue Ellen to go. At this point he sees her as a hinderance.

  7. “Deep down, J.R. loves Sue Ellen. How else to explain his envy in “Jenna’s Return,” when he begins to suspect Sue Ellen is having an affair?”
    Well, I think his envy CAN be explained without saying he loves her. That’s his trophy wife, and he kind of sees her as his property. In his eyes, he has the right to sleep around, but she is obligated to stay faithful to him. What would people think of ol’ JR if they knew his wife was cheating on him? Sue Ellen even says this when she is taunting JR about her pregnancy (the “chances are it’s yours” scene). What would your Mama and Daddy think? What about the boys at the Club? It’s about JR and his pride. If his wife is sleeping around, JR is a joke, a laughingstock. It’s not about love.

  8. Jock's Gray Continental says:

    Is Sue Ellen a literal idiot? Did she expect JR to let her leave with his precious heir without putting a fight, especially now he knows he’s the father.


  1. […] “Sue Ellen’s Choice,” a third-season “Dallas” episode, Jock (Jim Davis) fixes a drink in J.R.’s office while Donna […]

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