“Collateral Damage” gets it right. This episode offers solid writing, stylish direction and strong performances, all while making good use of established “Dallas” lore. Overall, this is the new show’s best hour since the pilot, “Changing of the Guard.”
I’m sure many viewers will remember “Collateral Damage” as the episode where Marta meets her maker, but as haunting as the sight of her bloodied body atop that crushed car is, it’s not the image that sticks with me most. No, that distinction belongs to the scene in the doctor’s office, where Christopher and Rebecca are shown the sonogram of their unborn twins as Bobby and Ann watch silently.
Julie Gonzalo and Brenda Strong are good here, but it’s the guys who move me most. Jesse Metcalfe is establishing himself as television’s best crier, while Patrick Duffy has matured into the rarest of Hollywood species: the actor who doesn’t need dialogue to perform. The look on Duffy’s face tells us everything we need to know about the pride and joy Bobby feels at that moment.
And while I’m sure “Dallas” newcomers appreciated this scene, it holds special meaning for me and, I suspect, other longtime fans. We once watched a twentysomething Bobby bring his young bride home to Southfork, and now we see him on the brink of becoming a grandfather. We remember Christopher arriving at the ranch as a babe-in-arms, and now he’s embarking on his own journey to fatherhood. For “Dallas” diehards, this is a big, meaningful moment, and director Steve Robin deserves our thanks for slowing things down so we could absorb the weight of it.
My other favorite “Collateral Damage” scene opens with John Ross sitting in a posh restaurant, reminiscing about the time he broke into the Southfork liquor cabinet as a child to sneak his first taste of bourbon. “That’s when you found me,” John Ross says as the camera pans across the table to reveal his dining companion: Lucy. “You were half past gone on the floor,” she quips. “And the first thing I thought was, ‘Yep, he’s his mama’s son.’”
I adore this exchange because it demonstrates how TNT’s “Dallas” can bring together younger characters and longtime favorites in ways that serve current storylines while also honoring the old show’s past. Even though we never witnessed John Ross sneaking liquor on the original “Dallas,” it isn’t hard to imagine it happening off-screen. The same thing can’t be said for many of the historical revisions TNT’s writers have made this season.
John Ross and Lucy’s scene also works well because, frankly, it’s nice to be reminded of a time when Southfork was full of family – something I hope the new series will get back to soon. Additionally, I’m happy to see TNT showcase Charlene Tilton, a onetime ingénue who now possesses a wonderfully worldly, been-there-done-that charm. I hope we see more of her in the future.
Aaron Allen’s “Collateral Damage” script also includes a nicely written scene where Sue Ellen oh-so-subtly pressures Elena to bail out John Ross. Jordana Brewster more than holds her own against Linda Gray during this exchange, particularly when Elena questions if Sue Ellen still cares about Bobby and his family – something I’ve wondered myself. Sue Ellen’s response (“Elena, when the day comes that you have to choose between your child and anybody else, I hope you choose wisely.”) illuminates the character’s thinking, reminding us that even though Sue Ellen has changed, she hasn’t lost all her old impulses.
Speaking of illumination: “Collateral Damage” sheds a little more light on the dark secret being kept by Ann, Bobby’s new wife. The evidence suggests Ann once had a daughter, although we don’t know what happened to her. According to one wild theory making the online rounds, Rebecca is Ann’s daughter, the result of a one-night stand with Cliff a quarter century ago. (Strong portrayed an unnamed woman Cliff slept with in “Cat and Mouse,” a 1987 “Dallas” episode.) I suppose anything’s possible, but for now I’m content to enjoy the mystery.
Finally, some praise for the fantastic “Collateral Damage” sequence where a frantic John Ross goes to Marta’s hotel room, believing she’s kidnapped Elena, only to discover it’s just another one of Marta’s deceptions. The whole thing plays like a fevered dream – the camerawork is shaky and the film looks like it’s been sped up – making this one of TNT’s niftiest “Dallas” scenes yet.
Until this moment, Marta seemed destined to become another crazed stalker from soap opera central casting, but Leonor Varela’s mesmerizing performance makes the character feel utterly human. Rather brilliantly, Allen’s script gives Marta a line about how she “earned” her way out of “the slums of Caracas,” a neatly efficient way to generate sympathy for the character before she dies.
From this perspective, Marta resembles another tragic “Dallas” vixen: Julie Grey, Tina Louise’s character from the old show’s early years. I don’t think it’s a coincidence Marta plunges to her death after encountering a couple of henchmen, just like Julie did during the old show’s classic “The Red File, Part 1” episode.
Clever homages like this help “Collateral Damage” earn its “A” grade, which is the first one I’ve awarded since “Changing of the Guard.” Something tells me it won’t be the last.
Season 1, Episode 7
Telecast: July 18, 2012
Writer: Aaron Allen
Director: Steve Robin
Audience: 5.2 million viewers (including 3.9 million viewers on July 18, ranking 13th in the weekly cable ratings)
Synopsis: Under pressure from Cano, John Ross invites Lucy to join him in the battle for Southfork, but she sides instead with Bobby. Ryland has Bobby arrested for assaulting him but drops the charges. Bobby tells Ann her past doesn’t matter to him. Christopher tells Elena he wants her back, but he’s at Rebecca’s side when she learns she’s pregnant with twins. Sue Ellen persuades Elena to use her oil to help John Ross, who is arrested after Marta plunges to her death from a high-rise balcony.
Cast: Carlos Bernard (Vicente Cano), Jordana Brewster (Elena Ramos), Patrick Duffy (Bobby Ewing), Julie Gonzalo (Rebecca Sutter), Linda Gray (Sue Ellen Ewing), D’Laine Gutmann (nurse), Larry Hagman (J.R. Ewing), Peyton Hayslip (Dr. Lauren Barstow), Josh Henderson (John Ross Ewing), Jesse Metcalfe (Christopher Ewing), Glenn Morshower (Lou), Kevin Page (Bum), Mitch Pileggi (Harris Ryland), Brenda Strong (Ann Ewing), Charlene Tilton (Lucy Ewing), Leonor Varela (Marta del Sol)