“Dallas’s” third season offers lots to celebrate – and a few things to curse.
Larry Hagman and Linda Gray do mighty impressive work in Season 3, but even they can’t touch Jim Davis and Barbara Bel Geddes. Since I began re-watching “Dallas,” the nicest discovery has been how good Davis is as Jock, especially in third-season episodes like “The Dove Hunt,” when he stares down rifle-wielding Tom Owens, and “Return Engagements,” when the humbled Ewing patriarch is a surprise guest at Gary and Valene’s wedding.
Meanwhile, Bel Geddes brings her trademark quiet strength to “Ellie Saves the Day” and “Return Engagements,” but the actress also shows us her character’s vulnerable side in “Mastectomy, Part 1” and “Mastectomy, Part 2,” the episodes that won Bel Geddes an Emmy. She earned the award, but I can’t help but think how much sweeter her victory would have been if the equally deserving Davis had been honored too.
Choosing the season’s best narrative is tough – Sue Ellen’s struggle with motherhood and Ray and Donna’s tortured love story are each strong contenders – but J.R.’s risky Asian oil deal gets my vote for most compelling plot. This storyline isn’t about exploring J.R.’s business acumen as much as it is about delving into his psyche: By revealing how far the character is willing to go to build Ewing Oil (he mortgages Southfork!), the show lets us know J.R. is every bit as compulsive as Sue Ellen. She may be powerless over booze, but he’s addicted to his own ambition.
Least favorite storyline: Lucy becomes engaged to Alan Beam to spite J.R. Really, “Dallas”?
Choosing the third year’s finest hour is tough. A strong case can be made for “A House Divided,” the finale that famously ends with J.R. getting shot (for the second time this season, after he’s ambushed in “The Dove Hunt”). But my ultimate choice is “Ellie Saves the Day,” the poignant hour that brings the Ewing empire to the brink of collapse. If you want to understand why Bobby fought so hard to protect his mama’s legacy on TNT’s “Dallas,” watch this episode.
Worst third-season entry: “Power Play.” Lucy romances Alan at a roller disco, Kristin captures their canoodling with some artfully framed Polaroid snapshots and Jock starts jive talking. “You dig?” he asks Lucy at one point. Um, no big guy. We don’t.
So many choices: I love when Patricia Shepard predicts John Ross’s future in “The Silent Killer,” the pep talk Bobby offers a worried Jock in “Ellie Saves the Day” and the “Paternity Suit” sequence where J.R. picks up his infant son for the first time. There’s also Miss Ellie’s encounter with phony-baloney Marilee Stone and Linda Bradley (also from “Paternity Suit”), as well as the lovely beach scene where Gary and Val make amends with Lucy, which occurred on “Knots Landing” but is too good to not mention here.
Ultimately, my favorite scene is the “Mother of the Year” sequence that mimics the rhythms of an oil strike. J.R. sits in his office, staring at his telephone, depressed because he hasn’t hit a gusher in Asia. Then the phones begin ringing as news of his big strike trickles in, leading to J.R.’s joyful eruption (“Yee-ha! We hit!”). Brilliant.
The season’s most ridiculous 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 up?
Susan Howard, who was still a guest star during “Dallas’s” third season, is the best supporting player, hands down. This is the year Donna is torn between honoring the memory of her dead husband and beginning a new life with Ray – and the actress does a beautiful job conveying her character’s torment. Besides Patrick Duffy, no one delivers breathy, soul-searching dialogue better than Howard.
Forget about the metaphorical value associated with the jeans the rebellious Sue Ellen wears in “Rodeo” and focus on how good Linda Gray looks in them. Get it, girl!
The green spandex pants Kristin wears in the same episode might be the season’s most dated costume, but I’ll confess: I kind of love it.
I also love, love, love John Parker’s “I’ll Still Be Loving You,” which is heard at the end of “Rodeo,” when Ray finally calls Donna after ignoring her letters. The tune, which becomes another of Ray’s anthems, is rivaled only by Jerrold Immel’s theme as my favorite piece of “Dallas” music.
Best: “Once I heard you were back in town, I just had some of my friends check out some of the cheaper motels.” – J.R.’s greeting to Val in “Secrets.” I could watch Hagman and Joan Van Ark go at it all day.
Worst: “And when I didn’t get married, I thought I was gonna die. But instead, I went to college.” – Lucy recalling her romantic history to Alan Beam in “The Heiress.” Oh, “Dallas.” Charlene Tilton is such a charming actress. Why do you insist on giving her ridiculous lines?
What do you love and loathe about “Dallas’s” third season? Share your comments below and read more “Best & Worst” reviews.