Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 50 – ‘Divorce, Ewing Style’

Bobby Ewing, Dallas, Divorce Ewing Style, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Pam Ewing, Patrick Duffy, Sue Ellen Ewing

Domestic disturbance

“Divorce, Ewing Style” focuses on the collapse of J.R. and Sue Ellen’s marriage. It’s a heavy subject, but the preposterous plotting makes it hard to take things very seriously.

The episode gets off to a silly start when J.R. comes home from work and walks into the darkened Southfork foyer, only to have the lights suddenly turn on, revealing the rest of the Ewings and a handful of extras exclaiming, “Happy anniversary!” Surprise parties, a sitcom staple, feel out of place on a show like “Dallas.” Besides, who throws a surprise party to celebrate a wedding anniversary?

Sue Ellen and Kristin’s restaurant scene is another eye-roller. Leonard Katzman’s dialogue is nice – I love Sue Ellen’s line about “living mama’s dreams” – but the ending is downright absurd. Kristin’s plan is to “accidentally” spill a cocktail onto Sue Ellen’s dress so the Ewings will smell alcohol on her and suspect she’s resumed drinking – and the execution proves as absurd as the idea itself. When Kristin and Sue Ellen toast their renewed friendship, Mary Crosby extends her arm across the length of the table and pretty much pours her drink into Linda Gray’s lap. Is Sue Ellen really supposed to believe this is an accident?

Speaking of Kristin: Why is she so awful? The character is a villainess, so the audience isn’t required to like her, but it would be nice if her motivations were a little clearer. Unlike J.R., whose actions are rooted in his desperate need for Jock’s approval, it seems Kristin is bad simply because that’s what “Dallas” needs her to be. The plot dictates her character development, when it really should be the other way around.

“Divorce, Ewing Style” concludes with Sue Ellen showing Jock and Miss Ellie the reports her private detective compiled on J.R.’s affairs, but she doesn’t realize J.R. has switched the documents with “clean” versions. Sue Ellen is humiliated, and Jock, Ellie, Bobby and Pam are embarrassed for her. After watching this episode, I know how they feel.

Grade: C


Dallas, Divorce Ewing Style, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing

Marriage 101


Season 3, Episode 21

Airdate: February 15, 1980

Audience: 19.4 million homes, ranking 6th in the weekly ratings

Writer and Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: J.R. discovers Sue Ellen has hired a private detective to follow him and pays the man to scrub his reports to her. With Kristin’s help, J.R. also convinces the family Sue Ellen has started drinking again, part of his plot to return her to the sanitarium. After J.R. has Alan fired, Alan invites Kristin to join forces with him against J.R. Miss Ellie finds herself charmed by Matt Devlin, a developer whose housing project she opposes.

Cast: Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Stephanie Blackmore (Serena), James L. Brown (Detective Harry McSween), Jeff Cooper (Dr. Simon Ellby), Barry Corbin (Sheriff Fenton Washburn), Mary Crosby (Kristin Shepard), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), John Christy Ewing (Tom Fuller), Meg Gallagher (Louella), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Jeanna Michaels (Connie), Don Porter (Matt Devlin), Randolph Powell (Alan Beam), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

“Divorce, Ewing Style” is available on DVD and at and at iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.


  1. Destinee says:

    I don’t know, Chris, I really like this episode. 🙂 Of course that doesn’t mean that it deserves an “A”! I agree with the thinly veiled plot of Kristin dumping her drink on Sue Ellen to get the family to think she’s been drinking again is a little too easy.

    Jock: “Damn, Sue Ellen sure is sloppy when she drinks!”

    I think the idea of the surprise party was purely for Sue Ellen to show “the world” that she and JR were happy (but of course she spilled the beans too quickly). And that should have been their 10th anniversary according to the wedding invitation that JR showed in S6. (I don’t know why they changed the date?) Sue Ellen pouring the champagne on JR to cool him off always makes me laugh. He’s way too gullible where Sue Ellen is concerned.

    As for Kristin, she started out with an obvious animosity towards Sue Ellen since she seemed to be the favored daughter. But that is no excuse for what she did. Coveting her sister’s husband in order to be his next wife? She didn’t even love JR, she just wanted him.

    I do love JR’s face while Ellie and Jock are reading the reports, he has that slight smirk of self-satisfaction.

    • You raise a lot of good points, especially about Kristin merely wanting J.R., not loving him. I’m also really glad you caught the continuity error regarding the year J.R. and Sue Ellen were married.

      I guess I just can’t get over the scene where Kristin “spills” her drink on Sue Ellen. Come on, “Dallas”! You can do better than this.

      As always, thanks for commenting. I appreciate it!

  2. Destinee says:

    I think of all the drinks spilled on Dallas, only one was not J.R. or Sue Ellen. When J.R. dumped the champagne on Cliff’s head. Otherwise, it was getting thrown at J.R., in his face, or dumped on Sue Ellen!

  3. I have to disagree with this one. This is one of the “big” Dallas episodes that helped turn the show into a smash. The watercooler factor of this one was immense, it’s about all people could talk about, the husband and wife’s sister who were making people think she was drinking when she wasn’t. It was so outrageous, people buzzed like bees about it and told everyone they knew they had to start watching this show if they didn’t already. That alone should give it an A. I still find the episode extremely watchable- yes, Mary’s knocked glass was a bit obvious but I bought Sue Ellen’s gullibility because she was so incredibly self-absorbed and Kristen’s speech distracted her to think more about the one she thought about most- herself. After an already amazing season, Dallas showed itself to be capable of raising the stakes- by continuing to get better and better. Sue Ellen’s divorce plot was clever, she just got beat by someone smarter and should not have opened her mouth about it. But Linda and Larry are dynamite, venom dripping with every other line, which made it funny as well as fascinating. You wondered how far they would take it- and they kept stretching it all the way to the finish line of “Who Shot JR?”- the show dipped a bit after that, but here it is still top-notch entertainment.

    • You make some good points, Archie. Some other folks have also chimed in with positive reviews of this episode. Perhaps I should give it another look. As always, thanks very much for your thoughtful comments.

      • Anonymous says:

        It made me so mad that Sue Ellen revealed her scheme ahead of time to JR. How stupid! Why not sleep with him and pretend to be happy and then just take off with Baby John?This episode definitely convinces me that JR does not love Sue Ellen and never did. He has to have her because she is unavailable to him. Why didn’t Sue Ellen defend herself by mentioning the lack of sobriety test? She should have been Miss Ellie’s shadow so that Ellie could back up her story of sobriety.

        The plotting is strange. Certain plot points are brought up and then completely dropped for several episodes only to resurface again. They don’t build momentum from one episode to the next. For example Cliff’s mini appearance here. The episodes still feel self contained. Alan Beam is boring but he would be interesting if he slept with Kristen. That Alan/Kristen conversation reminded me of early conversations between Pamela and John Ross in TNT Dallas.
        I too would have liked to see more Kristen character development. Just knowing that she dies gives me some satisfaction though.

      • Ooh, I like your comparison between Alan and Kristin and John Ross and Pamela. I need to revisit those earlier scenes.

  4. Look at the agony in Sue Ellen’s face, both during grab/fight session with J.R., & even to a greater degree. I have looked at this episode & noticed how pale white Linda Gray’s face is here! Just like later on when Sue Ellen becomes a boozer & walks the street. I kind of wonder if DALLAS makeup artists didn’t do this on purpose C.B. & Andrew to really set a mood/context for how upset she really is, how at the end of her rope!

  5. Dan in WI says:

    No doublt about it. Linda Grey somehow makes Crosby’s sitcom laughable drink spill believable with her reaction. You wouldn’t think it would be possible to sell that one but she did it.

  6. I don’t know if you still read this but I think you’re missing the point on several aspects of this episode and your evaluation of Kristins character development-
    the dropped drink was so obvious b/c Kristin didn’t care if it was-she had a job to do after all.
    Kristin didn’t have to have a reason to be awful-she reflects real life: some people are bad just because that’s how they are. There doesn’t have to be any ryhme or reason to it.
    Also I agree with the other commenter-she wants jr just because she wants him-and money. She doesn’t love him.
    And the anniversary party had an importantance-Sue Ellen showing her “devotion” to jr.
    Also the fight scene between them at the end is great-Sue Ellen shows a rare angry outburst in front of Jock and Ellie when she is usually so restrained.
    Also people forget about the time when they’re commenting-it was the 80s, people wouldn’t be as all fired-up angry about a breath-a-lizer as now, they were not the end all be all in dui’s as now-they were somewhat of an afterthought.(someone commenting on Sue Ellen not being upset abou the lack of one
    Oh-and the other drink spilling is Bonnie the barfly tossing the drink in Donna’s face-then Donna socks her-one of my favorite scenes!

  7. Chris, you rightly point out the flaws in this episode, but I think that the most important part wasn’t adequately acknowledged. It’s that riveting closing scene when she accuses, then attacks JR in front of his family. This is a Sue Ellen that has been a long time coming, a landmark moment in her development. It’s a turning point.

    Oh, we’d seen Sue Ellen unleashed before, losing her legendary self-containment in earlier scenes on “Dallas,” but we’d never seen her stand up for herself like this. It’s the first glimmer of the independence and self-affirmation she is not yet ready for but will most certainly achieve years later. This is Sue Ellen attempting to find the strength and fight that exists in Sue Ellen– not in a bottle, not in Cliff Barnes, not in Dusty, or with Bobby to assist. This moment is different from other Sue Ellen “unleashed” moments. It’s not about Sue Ellen looking to be mistress of South Fork (as in the famous Season 2 episode when Jock has a heart attack).

    Stepping out of her tightly wrapped self, at the top of this scene Sue Ellen even takes what I recall to be one of the first (if not THE first) steps toward connecting with Pam, asking her about her day at the Store. Tentatively, she’s begun making an effort to find out who she is beyond Mrs. JR Ewing. Make no mistake, it’s not a linear progression from here, and it’s a long, long road toward anything resembling a whole, self realized, connected person. But Sue Ellen’s first positive social step– everyone else watching as she makes her move– started here, I believe.

    For this scene alone, the whole episode deserves better than a grade “C” don’t you think?

  8. Kristen’s drink-spill looks obvious to us because we know it’s intentional. Sue Ellen on the other hand has no reason to expect that her sister would dump a drink on her intentionally.

  9. Anyone else realize that it had been at least 4 episodes (maybe 5 or more) since there was even a mention of the body they found on Ray’s property? Now Sheriff Washburn makes a token appearance just to remind viewers what occurred several weeks ago and set us up for Jock’s eventual arrest. I found this to be extremely sloppy pacing and writing. BUT I’m guessing this had something to do with the decision not to end the season with Jock’s trial and having to weave in and start setting up the storyline of many characters wanting revenge on J.R.


  1. […] Cliff’s campaign from the inside. The plan worked like a charm, but when J.R. and Alan had a falling out, Alan became a prime suspect in J.R.’s shooting. (FYI: He didn’t do […]

  2. […] moment: when Kristin “accidentally” pours her drink into her sister’s lap during their “Divorce, Ewing Style” lunch date. Sue Ellen, how did you not know you were being set […]

  3. […] “Divorce, Ewing Style,” a third-season “Dallas” episode, Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) has lunch at a restaurant with Kristin […]

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