Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 57 – ‘Nightmare’

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Nightmare, Who Shot J.R.?


“Nightmare” refers to the bad dreams that plague Sue Ellen in this episode, but the title also describes J.R.’s change of fortunes. The shooting has weakened him, physically and otherwise. His friends pity him; his enemies taunt him.

As “Nightmare” gets underway, we learn J.R.’s surgery has restored feeling to his legs, but he’ll have to learn to walk again. In the episode’s most memorable scene, Jock and Miss Ellie stand in the back of the hospital’s physical rehabilitation room and watch J.R., clad in a bathrobe and black orthopedic shoes, struggle to put one foot in front of the other. It proves too heartbreaking for Ellie, who turns away.

If J.R. knew his parents were in the room, he undoubtedly would be embarrassed, which is how he feels when Ray visits. At first, the onetime friends wax nostalgic about their days carousing and chasing skirts. Then Ray turns serious, puts his hand on J.R.’s shoulder and tells him he can count on him if he needs a friend. “Well, Ray, I don’t want to ever have to count on anybody but myself,” J.R. says before wheeling away.

The hits keep coming. Jordan, who raged at J.R. before the shooting, now provokes him. Bobby, who quit Ewing Oil in disgust over J.R.’s tactics, now runs the company. Kristin, whom J.R. tried to run out of town, now looks him up and down as he lies in his hospital bed and declares, “You’re just not man enough anymore.” (J.R.’s muttered response – “Bitch” – must have been pretty provocative back in 1980.)

You have to hand it to the “Dallas” creative team. At this point during the show’s run, J.R. was something of a national folk hero. Americans by the tens of millions watched “Dallas” each week to see him do despicable things. Exposing the character’s vulnerabilities made for rich storytelling, but there’s no doubt the show risked alienating his fans.

And the worst is yet to come. For J.R., the single silver lining since his shooting has been his reconnection with Sue Ellen, who has barely left his side. But in “Nightmare’s” final moments, that crumbles, too. On the night J.R. returns to Southfork, Horton, the cop investigating his shooting, arrives and reveals J.R.’s own gun was used in the crime – and Sue Ellen’s fingerprints are all over the weapon.

For J.R. and Sue Ellen, the nightmare is just beginning.

Grade: B


Dallas, Jim Davis, Jock Ewing, Nightmare, Who Shot J.R.?



Season 4, Episode 3

Airdate: November 14, 1980

Audience: 27.8 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Linda B. Elstad

Director: Irving J. Moore

Synopsis: J.R., while learning to walk again, interferes with Bobby’s efforts to run Ewing Oil. Cliff tells Pam he went to J.R.’s office to shoot him, only to find someone else beat him to it. The police find the gun used to shoot J.R. – and Sue Ellen’s fingerprints are on it.

Cast: Michael Alldredge (Detective Don Horton), Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Babcock (Liz Craig), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), David J. Bowman (Tom Selby), Christopher Coffey (Professor Greg Forrester), Jeff Cooper (Dr. Simon Elby), Mary Crosby (Kristin Shepard), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Meg Gallagher (Louella), Hugh Gorrian (Gil), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Laurence Haddon (Franklin Horner), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), Jeanna Michaels (Connie), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Don Starr (Jordan Lee), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing)

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


  1. Jock & Ellie seem ever so strong here. Despite Ellie’s tears upon J.R.’s walk training. They just c that that their 1st born needs them!


  1. […] Season 4, J.R. recovers from an assassination attempt, learns to walk again and suffers a humiliating exile from Ewing Oil. Through it all, Larry Hagman never misses a beat. […]

  2. […] That’s for sure.” J.R.’s under-the-breath response after she left the room: “Bitch.” (“Nightmare”) But is it really that black and […]

  3. […] “Dallas’s” fourth-season episode “Nightmare,” Ray (Steve Kanaly) visits J.R. (Larry Hagman), who is seated in his wheelchair in the hospital’s […]

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