“Dallas’s” fourth season was the show’s most-watched. Is it also the best?
In 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. The actor takes us deeper into J.R.’s psyche, revealing vulnerabilities we never dreamed the character was capable of. If you love Hagman’s complex performance on TNT’s “Dallas,” re-watch the classic show’s fourth season. This is where those seeds are planted.
“Who Shot J.R.?” turned “Dallas” into a global phenomenon, so you might expect the show to spend Season 4 playing it safe. Instead, it takes a creative risk by tackling sexism. This theme is best personified by pioneering PR whiz Leslie Stewart, but the gender wars are also seen when Miss Ellie calls out chauvinistic Jock, Lucy gets a career and Donna emerges as the top choice for a state senate seat. Who says “Dallas” isn’t progressive?
Season 4’s weakest subplot: Mr. Ewing goes to Austin. I love the idea of “Dallas” delving into politics, but Bobby’s conduct as a member of the state senate strains credibility. Shouldn’t Senator Ewing have recused himself from the legislature’s hearings into his parents’ fight over the Takapa Lake development – or its inquiry into J.R.’s foreign affairs? Where’s an ethics committee when you need one?
“The Fourth Son” is one of the finest hours of “Dallas” ever made. The episode, beautifully written by Howard Lakin (his first script for the show) and directed by Irving J. Moore, officially brings Ray into the Ewing fold and reminds us why Jock is such a revered figure in the “Dallas” mythos. Father-son relationships are integral to “Dallas” – especially on the TNT series – and no episode explores that theme better than this one.
To demonstrate how uneven episodic television can be, one week after “The Fourth Son” debuted, “Dallas” gave us “Trouble at Ewing 23,” which is easily my least-favorite Season 4 entry. I never know what’s worst: the cringe-inducing special effects when the oil field goes up in flames – or the fact Luther Gillis sheds not a single drop of blood after J.R.’s hired guns pump him full of lead.
How do you know when a “Dallas” scene is classic? When you only need one or two lines of dialogue to describe it. By that standard, the show’s fourth year probably offers more great moments than any other season: “It was you, Kristin, who shot J.R.” “He’s not your daddy. I am.” “You are my mother.” “Real power is something you take.” “Don’t make me see myself in your eyes.” “Mama, you didn’t take any licorice.”
Any one of these scenes qualifies for “best of” honors, but my sentimental favorite remains the “New Beginnings” moment when J.R. and Sue Ellen reminisce about their courtship. Next to J.R. and Bobby’s sibling rivalry, J.R. and Sue Ellen’s love affair is “Dallas’s” most enduring relationship. If you want to understand why these two can’t stay away from each other, watch this scene.
No surprise here: I love Leslie. The oh-so-cool Susan Flannery was the ideal choice to play the character, whose business savvy, scheming ways and unapologetic sexuality make her J.R.’s equal and the template for prime-time divas like Abby Cunningham and Alexis Carrington. “Dallas’s” writers seemed to lose interest in Leslie after awhile, but before her storyline peters out, no character in Season 4 is more fascinating.
At the other end of the spectrum lie Alex Ward and Clint Ogden, the utterly forgettable characters who romance Pam and Sue Ellen during the second half of the season. Don’t blame Joel Fabiani and Monte Markham, who are both fine actors; blame the writers, who colored Alex and Clint in shades of plain vanilla.
As 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 Davis’s role as father of the Ewing pride.
Some might consider Pam’s perm to be Season 4’s worst fashion choice – but those people are wrong because that ’do is awesome.
Best: “If you were on the side of the angels, you wouldn’t need Leslie Stewart.” – Leslie’s droll observation during the well-written scene where she persuades J.R. to hire her.
Worst: “My own son, letting some little no-account alley cat swing you by your big toe.” – The most memorable line during the tongue-lashing Jock gives J.R. after Leslie costs Ewing Oil a big deal. Watch it, Jock! That’s our Leslie you’re talking about.
What do you love and loathe about “Dallas’s” fourth season? Share your comments below and read more “Best & Worst” reviews.