“The Price You Pay” opens with TNT’s best “Dallas” scene yet: J.R. and John Ross’s encounter in the wood-paneled gentleman’s club, where father holds a straight razor to son’s neck and confronts him about his double-dealing in the plot to seize Southfork.
John Ross admits he was planning to betray J.R., and then J.R. offers a confession of his own. “I don’t blame you for trying to screw me,” he says. “I was never much of a father during your formative years. And I’d like to make up for that.” J.R. offers to teach John Ross about the oil business and extends a weathered hand toward the younger man, who hesitates before taking it. Father then pulls smiling son into a warm embrace.
This tense-then-tender moment, masterfully directed by Michael M. Robin, reveals the complexities that make “Dallas” great. Consider what’s happening here: J.R. and John Ross are essentially agreeing to work together to undermine Bobby, “Dallas’s” hero – yet Robin manages to turn it into a touching moment of father-son bonding. This is as good as any of the best scenes from the original “Dallas.”
The “shaving scene” establishes the theme of “The Price You Pay,” which shows how several Ewings are coming to grips with their pasts. Scriptwriter Bruce Rasmussen does a nice job reminding us of the internal forces that motivate J.R. and Bobby, while also fleshing out some of the younger characters.
The thematic approach helps conceal “The Price You Pay’s” flaws, which begin with Linda Gray’s absence. I don’t like the fact that Sue Ellen is missing from this episode, but I’m not altogether surprised, either. The show seems to be struggling to find a meaningful place for Sue Ellen in the narrative. This needs to change.
“The Price You Pay’s” other weak spot: The scene where John Ross threatens to expose Miss Ellie’s stay in a mental institution after Jock’s death. This never happened on the original “Dallas.” Yes, Ellie struggled to accept the loss of her husband, but she never sought professional help, which became an important part of her storyline. I suppose the producers of this new “Dallas” could argue Ellie was somehow institutionalized off-screen, but this really doesn’t fit with the beloved character’s history.
I’m not going to dwell on this point because the rest of “The Price You Pay” is quite good. The confronting-your-past theme works well, particularly in the scene where Ann finds J.R. in the storage barn, flipping through an old family photo album. I realize J.R. is only there to root for evidence in his scheme to seize Southfork, but I also believe old age has made him genuinely introspective.
Consider “The Price You Pay” scene where J.R. tells John Ross, “I spent most of your childhood chasing after women I didn’t love and making deals that didn’t really matter. I will get Southfork back, because you shouldn’t have to pay for my sins.” It’s a revealing line, demonstrating how after all these years, J.R. is still driven by his desire to protect his son’s legacy.
The moment J.R. comes face to face with old enemy Cliff Barnes is also poignant. Larry Hagman and Ken Kercheval still have great chemistry together, even if their sniping feels less like the epic confrontations of yore and more like something from “Grumpy Old Men.” Only on “Dallas” could J.R.’s threat to dance on Cliff’s grave come off as sweetly sentimental.
“The Price You Pay’s” most heartfelt moment of all comes at the end of the episode, when Ann climbs into bed with Bobby and shares her suspicion J.R. staged the fight with John Ross over Ellie’s journal. “Honey,” Bobby says wearily, “the fact that J.R. did it, and that he thinks he can make me believe he didn’t do it, that’s just who he is. And who he will always be.”
It’s another good line, reminding us how Bobby, ultimately, is a tragic character. Even though his hair is now silver and he brings reading glasses to bed, he’s still his brother’s keeper. It’s the role Bobby is doomed to play.
Interestingly, “The Price You Pay’s” thematic approach isn’t limited to the older characters: Christopher is reminded of the old Barnes-Ewing feud when Cliff offers to invest in his alternative energy project.
Even though I’m having a hard time squaring the notion Cliff, a notorious cheapskate on the old show, is now a high-stakes gambler, I like what Kercheval does with his redefined role in this scene. It’s a nicely subdued performance, and as a “Dallas” diehard, I appreciate how Cliff references his sister when he warns Christopher about the Ewings (“Don’t let them destroy you like they did Pam.”).
Christopher’s own ghosts surface when he finds out about Bobby’s cancer and, in a moment of weakness, kisses Elena. Ever his father’s son, Christopher goes home to Rebecca, confesses his indiscretion and vows to put his past behind him. “That’s over now,” he tells her.
Don’t believe it, Rebecca. This is “Dallas,” where history tends to repeat – and sometimes rewrite – itself.
‘THE PRICE YOU PAY’
Season 1, Episode 3
Telecast: June 20, 2012
Writer: Bruce Rasmussen
Director: Michael M. Robin
Audience: 6.7 million viewers (including 4.8 million viewers on June 20, ranking 8th in the weekly cable ratings)
Synopsis: After J.R. confronts John Ross about his betrayal, they join forces and manipulate Bobby into finalizing Southfork’s sale. Christopher rejects his uncle Cliff Barnes’ offer to invest in his patent. Bobby tells Christopher about his cancer, briefly sending Christopher into Elena’s arms. Rebecca resists Tommy’s pressure to spy on Christopher. John Ross learns Rebecca sent the e-mail that broke up Christopher and Elena.
Cast: Carlos Bernard (Vicente Cano), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Brett Brock (Clyde Marshall), Sonny Carl Davis (Hirsch), Richard Dillard (Mitch Lobell), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Julie Gonzalo (Rebecca Ewing), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), John McIntosh (Dr. Bennett), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Faran Tahir (Frank), Leonor Varela (Marta del Sol)