Critique: ‘Dallas’ Episode 58 – ‘Who Done It?’

Dallas, Linda Gray, Sue Ellen Ewing, Who Done It, Who Shot J.R.?

Just shoot her

“Who Done It?” brought the world to a standstill. Eighty-three million Americans, or roughly one-third of the nation’s population, watched this episode on the night it aired in 1980, a record at the time. The global audience is estimated in the hundreds of millions.

I’m sure many viewers still remember where they were and who they were with when they saw “Who Done It?” It’s less likely anyone remembers much about the episode itself. Aside from the final scene, when Kristin is finally revealed as J.R.’s shooter, this is pretty much a run-of-the-mill hour of “Dallas.”

From today’s vantage point, I find this astonishing. When “Who Done It?” was filmed, the producers must have known the broadcast would attract a huge audience, including people who’d never seen “Dallas” but wanted to witness the climactic moment in the “Who Shot J.R.?” phenomenon that had been raging for months.

You might expect the producers to craft an episode to welcome these newcomers. Instead, “Dallas” plows forward with storylines already in motion. Bobby tries to buy a refinery. Cliff hitches a ride on the Culver political bandwagon. Lucy continues wooing Mitch.

Not that I’m complaining, mind you. It’s nice to see “Dallas” conclude the “Who Shot J.R.?” mystery with an episode that’s designed to reward loyal fans.

It’s also nice to see the producers showcase Linda Gray, who does some of her finest work on “Dallas” in this episode. The actress makes Sue Ellen believably desperate at the beginning of “Who Done It?” when the character, clad in that iconic black-and-white dress, is forced to spend the night behind bars because the Ewings refuse to bail her out.

It’s always worth paying attention to the details of Gray’s performances, and “Who Done It?” is no exception. Watch closely when Sue Ellen is sitting alone in the jailhouse visitation room and Cliff arrives unexpectedly. The moment she recognizes him, Gray’s posture stiffens and she begins fixing her mussed hair. It’s a small gesture, but it lets us know Sue Ellen is determined to preserve whatever dignity she has left.

I also appreciate how the “Dallas” writers allow Sue Ellen to find a little inner strength after the Ewings reject her in the aftermath of her arrest. When she’s released from jail, she doesn’t hit the bottle, as you might expect. Instead, she turns to Dr. Elby and tries to get to the bottom of what happened the night her husband was shot.

You can’t help but feel Sue Ellen’s triumph when she arrives at Southfork in the final scene, armed with the truth that Kristin is trying to frame her. In contrast, I also appreciate how we get to see a different side of J.R. at this moment. When he spots Sue Ellen, he looks genuinely frightened; director Leonard Katzman even allows the camera to linger on Larry Hagman as he fumbles to get out of his wheelchair. Brilliant.

Of course, as good as Hagman and Gray are in this scene, don’t overlook Mary Crosby. I don’t think I’ve ever found Kristin as distasteful as I do when she coos about giving birth to Jock Ewing’s “jail baby” grandchild. But watch how Crosby’s bravado melts the moment J.R. announces he’ll “handle” her his own way.

In that instant, you can almost hear the wheels turning inside J.R.’s head. Or maybe it’s just the sound the world makes as it starts spinning again.

Grade: A

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dallas, J.R. Ewing, Larry Hagman, Who Done It, Who Shot J.R.?

He’ll handle it

‘WHO DONE IT?’

Season 4, Episode 4

Airdate: November 21, 1980

Audience: 41.5 million homes, ranking 1st in the weekly ratings

Writer: Loraine Despres

Director: Leonard Katzman

Synopsis: Sue Ellen is arrested and jailed. Someone posts bail, but she doesn’t know who did it. Cliff offers to help Donna’s stepson Dave Culver run for governor. Bobby wants to buy a refinery but can’t arrange the financing. After Dr. Elby hypnotizes her, Sue Ellen realizes Kristin shot J.R. and confronts her sister, who reveals she’s pregnant with J.R.’s child.

Cast: Tyler Banks (John Ross Ewing), Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing), Jeff Cooper (Dr. Simon Elby), Mary Crosby (Kristin Shepard), Jim Davis (Jock Ewing), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Kenneth Farmer (Gil), Tom Fuccello (Dave Culver), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), Laurence Haddon (Franklin Horner), Nik Hagler (Detective Frost), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Susan Howard (Donna Culver), Ken Kercheval (Cliff Barnes), John Lehne (Kyle Bennett), Leigh McCloskey (Mitch Cooper), Victoria Principal (Pam Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Gregory Walcott (Jim Redfield)

“Who Done It?” is available on DVD and at Amazon.com and iTunes. Watch the episode and share your comments below.

Comments

  1. Lloyd Ferrigon says:

    Kristin was a vile person and a horrible sister to Sue Ellen.

    • Yes, but she was a great character! Mary Crosby is magnificent.

      • I found this whodunnit to be such a let down and disappointment. I expected a Miss Marple type review of the possible suspects with evidence leading to the culprit. It was solved too quickly for me. I thought the resolution was very blah.

      • I agree, although I like that the culprit turned out to be Kristin and that her pregnancy prevented J.R. from throwing the book at her. That was a pretty good twist, I think.

      • It doesn’t make sense to me that they just let Kristin walk away after she tried to kill someone with a gun. I can’t believe Sue Ellen, Miss Ellie, Jock or the police for that matter went along with it. JR seemed very unconcerned that Kristin made his wife suffer.

  2. The thang is, Brother J.R. could have done an amniotic pregnancy test & had some fluid drawn out of the fetus. If it had proved he was the daddy, then fine let him house & pay for Kristin’s & baby’s expenses. If he wasn’t, he could pay her to have an abortion & shut up & then run her out of town b/c she’d have no financial claim on him. Personally, I’d kick her to the curb once he was proven not to be the daddy & starve her financially, even if she died. She’d cease to be a threat as she’d never be able to have a chance to shoot J.R. again.

  3. Ultimate Dallas lists the viewership of this episode at only 41.5 million people but here our site master says 83 million. Anybody know the reason for this huge discrepancy?

    • Dan, I looked into this. The episode was seen by 41.5 million households, which was the common measurement at the time. For this episode, Nielsen also calculated the number of individuals who tuned in and came up with 83 million viewers.

      Unfortunately, over the years, it appears the two figures get mixed up, and you now see “41.5 million viewers” in reputable publications. But 41.5 million households and 83 million viewers is how it was reported in the press in 1980.

  4. The melodramatical aspect of this whole storyline is terrific. Mighty and evil J.R. turns helpless invalide… and the feelings of other Ewings… simply wow!
    But, as for me, detective aspect has failed.

Trackbacks

  1. […] file” to Cliff, Louella ran off and got married, your Aunt Kristin – well, you better let J.R. tell you about her. Then there was Sly: She spied on your daddy for Cliff and formed an alliance against J.R. with […]

  2. […] in her closet during the original series. To recap: Sue Ellen was institutionalized for alcoholism; arrested for J.R.’s shooting; and embroiled in a series of ugly paternity suits, divorces and custody […]

  3. […] in “A House Divided,” the season-ending cliffhanger where J.R. is shot, and she absolutely owns “Who Done It?”the most-watched “Dallas” episode […]

  4. […] much as I love the iconic dresses Sue Ellen wears in “Who Done It?,” nothing compares to Jock’s lion’s head medallion, the perfect accessory to symbolize Jim […]

  5. […] with J.R.’s love child. He exiled her to California rather than deal with any more of her drama. (“Who Done It?”) If you think he’s cute as a […]

  6. […] Despres, writer, 1979 to 1980; credits include “Who Done It?”, the episode where Kristin is revealed as J.R.’s […]

  7. […] cope with his exile from Ewing Oil. Likewise, once Kristin was identified as his assailant – in a broadcast watched by 83 million people – how could you not feel sorry for her, especially after J.R. vowed […]

  8. […] This is the dress Sue Ellen wore when she was arrested for shooting J.R., and to me, it’s her most iconic look of all. Only Sue Ellen Ewing could make […]

  9. […] “Who Done It?,” a fourth-season “Dallas” episode, Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) arrives at Southfork to find J.R. […]

  10. […] seem to be changing is Sue Ellen. Following her triumphant confrontation with Kristin at the end of “Who Done It?”  Sue Ellen reverts back to J.R.’s dutiful wife in this installment, even allowing him to […]

  11. […] sister-in-law/ex-secretary/ex-mistress, who’s revealed as the shooter in one of the most-watched broadcasts in television history. (Props to Sue Ellen, who figures it all […]

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